Under the direction of Gerard Mortier, the Teatro Real is fast becoming one of the world's most innovative and exciting opera houses. With eight performances scheduled for early 2014-January 29 to February 11-Teatro Real will mount the first-ever production of Charles Wuorinen and Annie Proulx's BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.
Brokeback began its operatic life when Mortier heard about Wuorinen's wish to write an opera based on Annie Proulx's extraordinary 1997 short story, and set out to commission the score. Proulx's Brokeback Mountain (made into an Academy Award-winning film by Ang Lee) was first published in The New Yorker and subsequently in Proulx's celebrated collection of Wyoming stories, Close Range. In 2007, Wuorinen contacted Proulx with the proposal of turning Brokeback into an opera, and the author signed on to write her first libretto.
CHARLES WUORINEN RETURNS TO OPERA
Wuorinen, a lifelong New Yorker who celebrates his 75th birthday this year, is the recipient of both a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur grant. He has written more than 260 works, including an earlier opera, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which premiered at New York City Opera in 2004. The work was immediately hailed for its score, able to "dazzle any receptive ear with its incredibly broad palate of finely tuned sounds and irrepressible vitality" and as "a singularly apt musical response" (Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine) to the novel by Salman Rushdie, on which the opera was based.
Brokeback Mountain marks Wuorinen's return to the opera stage with one of the major works of his career, equally ambitious in its beauty and momentous tragedy as Haroun was in fantastical whimsy.
THE JOURNEY OF BROKEBACK
Brokeback 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. Wuorinen says "It's a story of doomed love, in this case a complex homosexual relationship taking place in a very homophobic society."
The 2005 film co-starred Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger. The motion picture won three Academy Awards, including Best Achievement in Directing (Ang Lee), Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score (Gustavo Santaolalla) and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay (Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana).
In a decidely different approach than the film adaptation, Wuorinen creates a grittier atmosphere. The story and characters have been tightly condensed by Proulx, a ghost and a chorus have been added, and nature itself introduced as the underlying element of the narrative. Wuorinen's score evokes the mountains with its swells and strains, bringing to life the harshly imposing Wyoming landscape from which the story was born.
A PREMIERE PRODUCTION AT TEATRO REAL
Teatro Real's production is to be directed by the renowned theater and opera director Ivo van Hove (general director of the Toneelgroep in Amsterdam) and conducted by Titus Engel, who made his celebrated debut at the Teatro Real last season, with sets and lighting by Jan Versweyveld, video projections by designer Tal Yarden, and costumes byWojciech Dziedzic.
Leading the cast is the "irresistible" bass-barione Daniel Okulitch(New York Magazine) as Ennis Del Mar and tenor Tom Randle as Jack Twist, praised by The Guardian for his "considerable magnetism and experience."
Soprano Heather Buckplays the role of Alma. Buck sang the title role in the premiere of Wuorinen's Haroun with New York City Opera in 2004, in which The New York Times wrote she "brought charming tomboyish energy, and sang with unflagging stamina and impressive assurance." Rounding out the cast is Czech mezzo-sopranoHannah Esther Minutillo as Lureen.
Annie Proulx and Charles Wuorinen inside Teatro Real, photo by Bernard Perez
The Genesis of the Story
"Sometime in early 1997 the story took shape. One night in a bar upstate I had noticed an older ranch hand, maybe in his late sixties, obviously short on the world's luxury goods. Although spruced up for Friday night his clothes were a little ragged, boots stained and worn. I had seen him around, working cows, helping with sheep, taking orders from a ranch manager. He was thin and lean, muscular in a stringy kind of way.
He leaned against the back wall and his eyes were fastened not on the dozens of handsome and flashing women in the room but on the young cowboys playing pool. Maybe he was following the game, maybe he knew the players, maybe one was his son or nephew, but there was something in his expression, a kind of bitter longing, that made me wonder if he was country gay. Then I began to consider what it might have been like for him-not the real person against the wall, but for any ill-informed, confused, not-sure-of-what-he-was-feeling youth growing up in homophobic rural Wyoming.
A few weeks later I listened to the vicious rant of an elderly bar-café owner who was incensed that two 'homos' had come in the night before and ordered dinner. She said that if her bar regulars had been there (it was darts tournament night) things would have gone badly for them. 'Brokeback' was constructed on the small but tight idea of a couple of home-grown country kids, opinions and self-knowledge shaped by the world around them, finding themselves in emotional waters of increasing depth. I wanted to develop the story through a kind of literary sostenente."
"When I first saw the film version of Brokeback Mountain I knew there was operatic material at hand. Then on reading the original, I was astonished at the differences between the famous story and the famous film. When to my great joy Annie Proulx agreed to write the libretto herself for my proposed opera, I told her that my mission would be to restore the meaning of a story that may have become world famous, but (as happens so often) has been hidden in the process.
Around this time Gerard Mortier became aware of my interest in Brokeback, and offered to commission the work for the Teatro Real in Madrid, with the first performances now scheduled for January and February of 2014.
Annie Proulx and I began consultation on the work in 2008 with a week spent at the excellent Ucross Foundation (an artists' retreat) near Sheridan, Wyoming. There I had the chance to go into the mountains that provide the model for Brokeback, and to hold several conversations with Annie Proulx. The result of this and many subsequent exchanges was a splendidly concise and apposite libretto, in which Proulx, through her characteristically laconic style, conveys character and scene with great efficiency. An essential property of any libretto which aspires to project drama is this kind of efficiency, since sung language greatly slows the delivery of words. I count myself very lucky to have been given such an excellent exemplar."
"My earlier opera Haroun and the Sea of Stories, despite its serious themes, is essentially a comic piece. After finishing it I wanted to write a tragic opera, and Brokeback Mountainseemed the perfect choice, since it displays an eternal dilemma in the dress of present-day relevance.
The music of Brokeback Mountain conveys the harsh magnificence of the Mountain where the protagonists first meet. Visiting Annie in Wyoming, seeing the land where the story is set and the characters shaped was invaluable, and it made a deep impression on me. Sometimes the score evokes the icy clarity of the high-altitude freedom the characters enjoy there. But the Mountain also breathes and storms, and the music projects this turbulence as well-especially when it transfers into the interior lives of the characters and their interactions in the human world. And the tragedy of the two principals, their doomed love, calls forth the most lyrical flights in the score."
Mortier on Brokeback Mountain
"The importance of Annie Proulx' novel is that 'great love' is 'great love' even if social reflections and conventions are opposed to it. Therefore I programmed the world premiere next to the production of 'Tristan und Isolde.' 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. Wuorinen understood that he could support Proulx' idea through his music but also that he needed a great formal conception to avoid sentimentalism, just as Wagner did.
Next to the film of Brokeback Mountain, which was rather sentimental and closer to Puccini, Wuorinen will serve the essential dimension of Annie Proulx' fabulous novel."
The Cast and Creative Team Includes:
Titus Engel, conductor
Ivo van Hove, director
Jan Versweyveld, sets and lighting
Wojciech Dziedzic, costumes
Tal Yarden, video Jan Vandenhouwe, dramaturgy Andrés Máspero, chorus director
Tom Randle, Jack Twist Daniel Okulitch, Ennis del Mar Heather Buck, Alma Beers Hannah Esther Minutillo, Lureen
"Charles Wuorinen is one of the world's greatest composers" - John Zorn
In 1970 Wuorinen became the youngest composer at that time to win the Pulitzer Prize (for the electronic work Time's Encomium). The Pulitzer and the MacArthur Fellowship are just two among many awards, fellowships and other honors to have come his way.
Wuorinen has written more than 260 compositions to date. His newest works include Time Regained, a fantasy for piano and orchestra based on early music (Matteo da Perugia to Orlando Gibbons) for Peter Serkin, James Levine and the MET Opera Orchestra; Theologoumenon, an orchestral tone poem commissioned for James Levine's 60th birthday; Eighth Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto for the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and It Happens Like This, a staged setting of poems by James Tate.
In 1984 Wuorinen was the first composer commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra under its new Music Director, Christoph von Dohnanyi (Movers and Shakers); and likewise in 1996 the first to compose for Michael Tilson Thomas' New World Symphony (Bamboula Beach) which the Miami herald described as "An exhilarating, festive, six minute tour-de-force for large orchestra." In 1975 Stravinsky's widow gave Wuorinen the composer's last sketches for use in his homage A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky, premiered by Tilson Thomas in Buffalo and Ojai. The Reliquary received its first recording under the baton of Oliver Knussen and the London Sinfonietta on a Deutsche Grammophon CD, and was choreographed by Peter Martins for the NYCB in 1995 (with the composer conducting).
His works have been recorded on nearly a dozen labels including several releases on Naxos, Albany Records (Charles Wuorinen Series), John Zorn's Tzadik label, and a CD of piano works performed by Alan Feinberg on the German label Col Legno.
Wuorinen's works are published exclusively by C.F. Peters Corporation. He is the author of Simple Composition, used by composition students throughout the world.
An eloquent writer and speaker, Wuorinen has lectured at universities throughout the United States and abroad, and has served on the faculties of Columbia, Princeton, and Yale Universities, the University of Iowa, University of California (San Diego), Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, State University of New York at Buffalo, and Rutgers University.
Wuorinen has also been active as performer, an excellent pianist and a distinguished conductor of his own works as well as other twentieth century repertoire. In 1962 he co-founded the Group for Contemporary Music, one of America's most prestigious ensembles dedicated to performance of new chamber music. In addition to cultivating a new generation of performers, commissioning and premiering hundreds of new works, the Group has been a model for many similar organizations which have appeared in the United States since its founding.
Wuorinen is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Photo by Marc Mcandrews/Getty Images
Annie Proulx, author/librettist
Annie Proulx, born in Norwich, Connecticut in 1935, studied history at the University of Vermont and Sir George Williams University (Now Concordia) in Montreal. Her study of history and her literary output has been influenced by the Annales school and an ever-enlarging field of research possibilities. She worked as a journalist in her forties and did not start to write fiction until the 1980s. Since then she has won many fellowships, awards and prizes for her essays, short stories and novels, including National Magazine Awards, the O. Henry Award, the Dos Passos Prize for Literature, the National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the P.E.N.-Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Several of her short stories, most notably "Brokeback Mountain" have been made into films, as has the novel The Shipping News. Something of a geographic determinist, her work often takes the form of psychological studies of people linked to specific rural landscapes-New England, Newfoundland, Wyoming. She lives in Wyoming, New Mexico and wherever circumstances take her.
Exterior and interior of Teatro Real, photos by Javier del Real
The first plans for the Teatro Real date from 1817, when King Fernando VII commissioned the remodeling of the Plaza de Oriente. The theatre was finally inaugurated with La favorite, by Donizetti, on November 19, 1850, after 32 years of building work. Over the following 75 years, the Real functioned as an opera theatre, becoming the centre of social and artistic life in Madrid and hosting the best voices of Europe.
In October 1925, a collapse caused the theatre to be temporarily closed. Finally, in 1966, after years of political unrest and difficulty, the Teatro Real was reopened as a symphony hall and the headquarters of Orquesta Nacional de España, but it was not until 1984 that it was decided to make it an opera house again. The rehabilitation work started in January 1991, first under the management of architect José Manuel González Valcárcel and, after his death, with Francisco Rodríguez Partearroyo, who concluded the rehabilitation in 1997.
The Teatro Real reopened its doors on October 11, 1997, with a double bill: the ballet El sombrero de tres picos and the opera La vida breve, both works by Manuel de Falla. After its renovation, the Real became one of the most complete and technically advanced theatres in the world, determined to recover its traditions, and to produce and embrace the most ambitious lyrical creations of our time. Since its reopening, the Teatro Real has held nine world premieres:, including Don Quijote by Cristóbal Halffter (2000); Faust-Bal by Leonardo Balada (2009); and The Perfect American by Philip Glass (2013).
With the engagement of Gerard Mortier as new artistic director in 2010, the Spanish government wanted to put the Teatro Real on the highest artistic level. Mortier completely rebuilt the chorus, and engaged first class conductors, such as Semyon Bychkov, Sylvain Cambreling, Thomas Hengelbrock, Teodor Currentzis, Hartmut Haenchen, and James Conlon. He has also invited first-rank stage directors such as Robert Wilson, Christoph Marthaler, Dmitri Tcherniakov, Peter Sellars, Krzysztof Warlikowki, Lluís Pasqual, and Fura dels Baus, as well as great visual artists including Anselm Kiefer, Jaume Plensa, Emilia and Ilya Kabakov, and Marina Abramovic.
Gerard Mortier was born in Ghent (Belgium). He attended a Jesuit school, and after his secondary education, continued to study law and communication.
His love of opera led him to choose a career in the arts, and his first post was Director of the Flanders Festival. Between 1973 and 1980 Gerard Mortier was Artistic Director at the opera housesin Düsseldorf, Hamburg and Frankfurt and subsequently worked for a short time as a technical adviser in setting up the programme of the Paris Opera.
In 1981, Mortier was appointed General Manager of Le Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels. He reformed the opera house with innovative adaptations of the repertoire, the introduction of new works, and the recruitment of new performers. In 1992, he took over the running of the Salzburger Festspiele where he received heavy criticism as well as praise for his radical and sometimes provocative transformation of the then highly traditional opera festival. In 2001, Mortier was invited to develop and lead the Ruhrtriennale 2002-2004, which brought to North Rhine Westphalia an effervescent mixture of dance, opera, symphonies and theatre.
Gerard Mortier was General Director of the Paris Opera between 2004 and 2009 and appointed Artistic Director of Teatro Real, Madrid in 2010.
Gerard Mortier holds two honorary Doctorates from the universities of Antwerp and Salzburg and was invited as "fellow" of the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin in 2001-2002. He has taught political and social history of theatre in Ghent (Belgium) and Leiden (Netherlands).
ADDITIONAL EVENT: Wuorinen 75th Birthday Concert
at the Morgan Library
Virtuoso Works for Solo Piano & String Quartet
Pianists Ursula Oppens, Alan Feinberg, Anne Marie McDermott - and the Brentano String Quartet -perform works written for them