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the take

‘Brokeback Mountain’ Opera Not Necessarily the Campiest Thing Ever

brokeback opera

Photos: Getty Images, iStockphoto, Focus Features


The news from the opera world seems at first glance custom-made for parody: New York City Opera has ordered up an opera based on Annie Proulx’s short story Brokeback Mountain? (What’s next, an opera based on An Inconvenient Truth? Oh, right.) You might think that monosyllabic Wyoming ranch hands would be poor candidates for operatic characters —a shrug and a grimace can be eloquent on the page or the screen, but they kind of fizzle in a medium where the audience is expecting hours of actual singing. You might likewise believe that the composer Charles Wuorinen’s dissonance-heavy, tender-as-granite modernism to be an odd fit with a tale of fishing-trip love. Finally, you might be of the opinion that the only thing campier than a pair of singing cowboys is a couple of gay opera-singing cowboys.

But consider the precedents that tradition has to offer: a long roster of characters with complicated sexual-identity issues (Mozart’s Cherubino from Le Nozze di Figaro, Strauss’s Octavian from Rosenkavalier, and Gluck’s Orestes and Pylades from Iphigénie en Tauride, to name a few); inarticulate protagonists (Britten’s Peter Grimes and Billy Budd, Jake Heggie’s Joseph in Dead Man Walking); and even a cowboy opera (Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West). It’s even possible that Wuorinen’s tormented style of lyricism will be the perfect counterpart to the story’s tangle of repression, desire, confusion, anger, and shame. At least it’s safe to assume he won’t hang Act One on a sentimental love duet. Check back in with New York City Opera in 2013 to find out. —Justin Davidson

'Brokeback,' the Opera [NYT]

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