The original short story took the American writer more than a
year of thinking and six weeks of writing, at the end of which
Proulx thought "her involvement with the story had finished,"
she told Reuters.
American composer Charles Wuorinen saw the operatic potential of
the doomed romance between two Wyoming sheep herders, however,
and asked Proulx to write the libretto.
"The story embodies a contemporary version of an eternal and
universal human problem: Two people who are in love but who
can't get it together, who can't make it work," Wuorinen, 75,
said before a dress rehearsal in the run-up to the opera's world
premiere in Madrid on Tuesday.
"The story is fraught, and has the kind of immediacy that makes
it ideally suited for an operatic treatment. It's not an
ideological piece ... It's just a piece about a universal human
problem which doesn't get resolved," he said.
Wuorinen, known for his complex 12-tone music, proposed the
piece to Gerard Mortier, who brought the project with him to
Madrid's Teatro Real opera house.
Proulx wrote the libretto in close coordination with Wuorinen,
who won a Pulitzer prize in 1970 for the electronic music piece
His score uses a wide range of instruments to invoke the sounds
of exhilaration, longing and frustration in the backdrop of wind
and rain on "Brokeback Mountain."
"For me it was wonderful to have the space. The opera has much
more room for exposition and character growth. The story
enlarged and gained a layer of depth," said Proulx, who finished
the libretto in 2008, soon after it was commissioned.
Mortier had planned the piece for the now defunct New York City
Opera and had to wait until his stewardship of the Teatro Real
in 2010 before finding a home for it in the programming.
Bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch drew on his experience growing
up in a Western-style town in Canada to give voice to the
character of Ennis del Mar, the introverted, impassive cowboy
played by the late Heath Ledger on the big screen.
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"There were so many magnificent things about Heath
Ledger's performance, but at the same time it would be limiting to me
to try to re-create what he did," Okulitch said in a rehearsal room
with sweeping views of tiled rooftops in central Madrid.
"Cinema is a totally different form ... An actor has the luxury of
communicating a thought with a glance, whereas on the operatic stage
we have to sing about our emotions and can't just rely on the raise
of an eyebrow," he said.
One of the main differences in the opera version is the depth of the
female characters, particularly Ennis's wife Alma, who sings out
against sexist ranch life.
Hollywood-born tenor Tom Randle, who plays the
impulsive Jack Twist, has not seen Ang Lee's critically acclaimed
film version of "Brokeback Mountain."
"I meant to do it a long time ago and just never got around to it,
and when I was asked to do this role, I made a decision not to. This
is a new piece, a new medium," Randle said.
The showing at the Teatro Real through February 11 is alternating
with the staging of Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," another
tragic love story.
"I think it's terribly important to have something remaining in our
world that involves a live, breathing audience and live actors and
singers and live music," said Proulx, 78.
"All of these things are becoming more and more rare. Opera is
precious, so I'm tremendously pleased to have this story turned into
the finest expression that we have left to us in emotions and
(Edited by Fiona Ortiz and Sonya
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