Wuorinen: Brokeback Mountain [DVD]

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wuorinen
LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
WORKS: Brokeback Mountain
PERFORMER: Daniel Okulitch, Tom Randle, Heather Buck, Hannah Esther Minutillo, Ethan Herschenfeld, Celia Alcedo, Jane Henschel, Ryan MacPherson, Hilary Summers, Letitia Singleton, Gaizka Gurruchaga, Vasco Fracanzani; Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Real de Madrid/Titus Engel; dir. Ivo van Hove (Madrid, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: BAC 111; Blu-ray: BAC 411

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It was the late opera director Gerard Mortier who conceived of creating an opera out of Annie Proulx’s tale of doomed cowboy lovers and commissioned Charles Wuorinen. Ivo van Hove’s 2014 premiere production from Madrid’s Teatro Real features strong leads in Tom Randle’s bravura Jack Twist and baritone Daniel Okulitch’s introspective Ennis Del Mar. But does opera add anything to the telling of this story?

The power of Ang Lee’s pitch-perfect 2005 film derived largely from what was left unsaid; the looks, the gestures, minutae of physical contacts and distances. By contrast, Proulx’s own opera libretto adds to the backstory, overloading what was a precisely observed short story. Wuorinen’s post-serial score struggles to cope with all the verbiage and ultimately fails to get the upper hand.

Starting with an ominous double-bass motif, the score is darkly claustrophobic and unremittingly apprehensive. It grinds along in an amorphous way, supporting the singers’ consistently declamatory lines, rarely allowing for any real change of pace or tone. Musically, the moments of happy delirium or bleak despair are not sufficiently differentiated. In the film, a sharp contrast to the slow loneliness of life was provided by the exuberant rodeo, but here that makes no impact. Indeed, some sense of local colour would have lifted this piece out of its sense of generalised tragedy.

Some things survive; Ennis’s tenderness towards his daughters; his wife Alma’s gradual loss of hope (beautifully played by Heather Buck), a scene of moving stillness when Ennis meets Jack’s parents after his death. Though Tal Yarden’s projections help to give a sense of Wyoming mountain country to the bare stage, interior scenes are curiously jumbled and hinder rather than help the action.Conductor Titus Engel appears to give clarity and drive to this congested score, but neither he nor Okulitch, can deliver the catharsis needed in the final scene when Ennis gives voice to his forbidden love.

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Helen Wallace