BWW Review: Same Time, Next BROKEBACK, Premiering at City Opera
At the opening of New York City Opera's US premiere production of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, with a libretto by Annie Proulx based on her short story, it was the score by Charles Wuorinen that knocked me out, with its intricacies, aural moodiness and exciting orchestration. Yet, there was hardly a moment that I felt I was listening to an opera. The passions of the story--about two cowboys who meet regularly over decades for an affair that ends in sorrow--may have appealed to Wuorinen when he wrote the score, but I felt he never communicated those feelings to the listener.
The story never soared as it came from the voices of the two men, Ennis del Mar (bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch) and Jack Twist (tenor Glenn Seven Allen), whose love is the center of the story. That was critical to the success of the evening--and it didn't happen. I often wished that I was at a concert, listening to the score as a symphony and could concentrate on the orchestral performance; here, it was beautifully put forth by the City Opera Orchestra under Kazem Abdullah but had to fight its way through the dialogue.
Part of that is the fault of Proulx, the inexperienced librettist, who hadn't learned the lessons of the form's current masters and took her story way too literally--not letting the music express the most important moments of the story. The best libretti, certainly in the current era, are lean and mean. This one was neither, except, perhaps in the character of Alma, del Mar's wife.
And so, she manages to come across best in the cast, certainly as embodied by soprano Heather Buck. Her gorgeous voice and striking stage presence made her the star of the show. Unfortunately, she's not one of the cowboys that the plot hinges on.
As for Okulitch and Allen, as del Mar and Twist, they didn't telegraph much heat to the audience, even in their most intimate scenes. Their meeting is supposed to be a coup de foudre-a lightening flash--and it never happens. To say that was a problem is an understatement. It's like having a Violetta and Alfredo in TRAVIATA who show no attraction. While both have attractive voices, they were not put to good use in this environment.
The rest of the cast, including mezzo Hilary Ginther as Lureen, Jack's wife, sounded fine but were hobbled by the stick figures given to them.
The production, designed by Eva Musil and directed by Jacopo Spirei, which originated at the Salzburg (Austria) State Theatre, started out solidly, but seemed to lose its way in the second act. At the beginning, the domestic scenes burst through the mountain of the title, and showed (perhaps a bit heavy-handedly) the importance of the first meeting of del Mar and Twist to their later lives. After the intermission, it was as if that idea was forgotten and, thus, it just became a run of scenes not tied with an arc.
The piece was originally commissioned by Gerard Mortier, when he was set to take over the reins of the original City Opera before its demise but backed out before taking command. The piece premiered at Madrid's Teatro Real in January 2014 and was revised before the Salzburg outing.
The remaining performances of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, at the Rose Theatre of Jazz from Lincoln Center, are Saturday June 2 at 2pm, Sunday June 3 at 3pm and Monday June 4 at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, see the New York City Opera website,