Brokeback Mountain (opera)

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Brokeback Mountain is an opera by American composer Charles Wuorinen, with a libretto in English by Annie Proulx, based on her 1997 short story Brokeback Mountain. As recounted by Ashifa Kassam:

After reading Proulx' tale of doomed lovers, composer Charles Wuorinen knew he had the makings of a tragic opera. "In older operas there would be an illegitimate child or difference of social classes," said Wuorinen. "Same-sex love, especially when it takes place in an environment where it's absolutely forbidden, is a contemporary version of the same eternal problem."[1]

Composition history[edit]

In 2007, Wuorinen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer approached Proulx with the idea of turning her short story into an opera[2] and "to ask for her blessing to adapt the story for opera. Proulx went one step further, offering to write the libretto".[1]

Gerard Mortier, then the incoming General Director of the New York City Opera arranged the commissioning of the work. When Mortier abruptly left the New York City Opera in 2008, the project was left in limbo until Mortier took up his new post as General Director of Teatro Real in Madrid, bringing the Brokeback project with him. [3]

Work on the opera was started in August 2008 and completed in February 2012. As Kennicott notes:

While other composers might have found the taciturn and often painfully inarticulate characters a challenge, Wuorinen was inspired. Brokeback Mountain was a struggle toward the possibility of expression, about a groping toward language and awareness and self-knowledge. "I take the position that since it takes a long time for any word to get out, that what is laconic on the page can seem quite expansive on the opera stage," he says.[4]

Performance history[edit]

The world premiere took place 28 January 2014 in Madrid directed by Ivo van Hove and conducted by Titus Engel.[5][6] It received mixed reviews. [7]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 28 January 2014[8]
Conductor: Titus Engel
Ennis del Mar bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch
Jack Twist tenor Tom Randle
Aguirre, trail boss bass Ethan Herschenfeld
Alma Beers, Ennis’ wife soprano Heather Buck
Mrs. Beers, Alma's mother mezzo-soprano Celia Alcedo
Lureen, Jack’s wife mezzo-soprano Hannah Esther Minutillo
Hogboy, Lureen's father bass Ethan Herschenfeld
John Twist Sr., Jack's father tenor Ryan MacPherson
Mrs. Twist, Jack's mother alto Jane Henschel
Bartender alto Hilary Summers
Saleswoman alto Letitia Singleton
Bill Jones spoken Basque Fracanzani
Chorus: Townspeople (including Cowboy—Gaizka Gurruchaga)




The composer expressed his views on the kind of musical idiom suited to this subject matter — and to his own tastes in music: "Opera should deploy the full resources of musical composition and not be restricted to any kind of model, including a model of what is lyric singing," says Wuorinen. The composer's personal litany of great opera is revealing — the works of Monteverdi, "some of Wagner," Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, and of course the operas of Alban Berg. "You can tell where my sympathies lie." [4]

In his own comments on the formal qualities of Wuorinen's work, Gerald Mortier stated: "Wuorinen understood that he could support Proulx's idea through his music, but also that he needed a great formal conception to avoid sentimentalism, just as Wagner did......Next to the film of Brokeback Mountain, which was rather sentimental and closer to Puccini, Wuorinen will serve the essential dimension of Annie Proulx's fabulous novel."[9]


The orchestral score calls for:[10]



  1. ^ a b Kassam (20 January 2014), The Guardian.
  2. ^ Westphal, Matthew (27 September 2007), "'Gay 12-Tone Cowboys' - Composer Charles Wuorinen Plans Opera Version of Brokeback Mountain", Playbill. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  3. ^ "Una historia de ‘cowboys’ y tenores | Cultura | EL PAÍS". 20 October 2012. Retrieved 25 August 2013. In Spanish. 
  4. ^ a b Kennicott, Philip, "Love in the Western World", Opera News, January 2014, Vol. 78, No. 7. Retrieved 21 January 2014
  5. ^ Andrew Clements, "Brokeback Mountain—Review", The Guardian (London), 29 January 2014
  6. ^ Anthony Tommasini, "Operatic Cowboys in Love, Onstage" (Review), The New York Times, 29 January 2014
  7. ^ William Jeffery, "Brokeback Mountain Opera receives world premiere", 30 January 2014 on
  8. ^ "Opera: Brokeback Mountain (Cast and production team for Teatro Real Madrid premiere) on the company's website. Retrieved 31 January 2014
  9. ^ Mortier in Kennicott, Opera News
  10. ^ "Sheet Music Publishers - Music Publishing Company - London". edition-peters. 31 May 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013. 


External links[edit]