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BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN AS OPERA

By Antoine du Rocher

NEW YORK, 10 JUNE 2008 — New York City Opera General Manager-Designate Gérard Mortier announced that American composer Charles Wuorinen has accepted City Opera's invitation to compose an opera based on Annie Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain." Currently slated to premiere during City Opera's 2013 spring season, this work will mark Mr. Wuorinen's second world premiere at City Opera; his Haroun and the Sea of Stories, an adaptation of Salman Rushdie's colorful novel, had its world premiere at New York City Opera on 4 October 2004. Mr. Wuorinen said in a press statement, "Ever since encountering Annie Proulx's extraordinary story I have wanted to make an opera on it, and it gives me great joy that Gérard Mortier and New York City Opera have given me the opportunity to do so."

Mr. Wuorinen, who just celebrated his 70th birthday, is a native New Yorker who has been a major presence on the American contemporary music scene for more than four decades. His honors include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize for his electronic work Time's Encomium in 1970, when he became the youngest composer ever to receive this award. Mr. Wuorinen's compositions encompass every form and medium, including works for orchestra, band, chamber ensemble, chorus, keyboard, percussion and electronics, as well as ballets and operas.

Gérard Mortier, founder of the Ruhr Triennial and the former General Director of the Paris Opera, is no stranger to controversy. Whether one approves or not of his artistic legacy, his hotly contested tenure as artistic director of the Salzburg Festival, for example, opened up the staunchly conservative festival to artists and repertoire often neglected in the past.

Still, Brokeback Mountain is not exactly The Marriage of Figaro. It is the story of ranch hand Ennis del Mar and rodeo cowboy Jack Twist, two young men who meet and fall in love on the fictional Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming in 1963. The 2005 Academy Award-winning film, of the same name, documents their complex relationship over the next twenty years. The film costarred the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal and caused an uproar in the United States due to the novelty of the homosexual theme. So while Mr. Wuorinen may very well bring to the opera stage this tragic love affair (the staple of most operas), a far more daunting task for the composer and the opera will be to address its more insidious subtext: the struggle against American ignorance and prejudice.

Antoine du Rocher is managing editor of Culturekiosque.com

Photo: Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain
Photo courtesy of Focus Features

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