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Gay cowboy opera 'Brokeback Mountain' premieres in Spain

29 january 2014, 13:03
0
Singing in rich tenor and baritone voices, cowboys doffed their hats and embraced in their underwear in the premiere of an opera adaptation of Oscar-winning film "Brokeback Mountain" in Spain on Tuesday, AFP reports.

The tragic love story opened to a mixture of cheers and silence the audience at Madrid's top opera house, the Teatro Real, whose director compared it to Wagner and billed it as a gesture in favour gay rights.

Peppered with swearwords, the English-language show was a bold move for a top classical venue where traditional-minded audiences have been known to boo work that displeases them.

The cowboy lovers, Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar, were played in the 2005 picture by Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger. That film, by Taiwanese director Ang Lee, won three Oscars.

On stage in the Spanish capital, the Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch plays the hesitant Ennis and American tenor Tom Randle his devoted Jack.

The theatre's outgoing Belgian director Gerard Mortier said the decision to stage it was "very political" at a time of debate in Europe over issues such as gay marriage.

"We have seen a lot of people suffering from this taboo in society," he said.

The show "is absolutely universal," he told a news conference ahead of the premiere. "It reflects on society and the human condition."


Mixed audience reaction


The show has caused little public controversy in Spain, where gay marriage is legal.

The cowboys play out their tale of secret love in homophobic 1960s Wyoming against a photographic backdrop of brooding mountains.

Their voices soar over New York composer Charles Wuorinen's score, ominous brass and strings sounding from the orchestra pit as the doomed romance moves to its climax.

Wuorinen called on the US writer Annie Proulx, 78, author of the short story on which the film was based, to write the libretto.

At the Teatro Real, it followed a production of another tale of forbidden love, Wagner's epic "Tristan and Isolde".

Mortier said he deliberately staged the two shows back-to-back, seeing parallels between the cowboys and the mythical knight and princess of Richard Wagner's masterpiece.

"Tristan, Isolde, Jack, Ennis -- they all don't understand what's happening to them but are all prepared to die for the love they feel," he said in notes accompanying the production.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Wuorinen, 75, told AFP he was "more interested in the fundamental human problem" of the characters than in making a show about gay rights. "But if it helps, that's fine," he added.

Dressed in cowboy hats and boots, putting up tents and drinking by a campfire before falling into each others' arms, Jack and Ennis sing a punchy libretto crackling with slang.

"I ain't no queer," growls Ennis, in denial after spending the night in Jack's tent on the mountain where the two are minding sheep one summer.

Coming down from the mountain, the two part ways and start families as Ennis resists Jack's pleas for them to live together. But their love haunts them both throughout their lives.

Ennis's terse speech blossoms into eloquence in a final lament, as he comes to terms with his love for Jack too late.

"Ennis is the conservative and he's struggling with change on a very personal level," Proulx told reporters. "Jack... is the agent for change," she added.

"There's that larger struggle that lies over the entire opera, and that is one of the reasons that it appeals to the general public. It's about us."

Proulx and Wuorinen received warm applause and calls of "bravo" from some in the audience at the end of Tuesday's premiere, although other spectators appeared less impressed, getting up and leaving immediately at the final curtain.

Wuorinen said he was not afraid of displeasing traditional audiences at one of Europe's top opera houses.

"What any public, even one that I might know, is going to think or do... it's not my problem," he said. "It's theirs."

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