Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Charles Wuorinen, Brokeback Mountain - Salzburger Landestheater

Premiere performance (Austrian premiere performance) 27th February

Gerard Mortier had the idea of taking the subject of Brokeback Mountain, which had already been produced as a Hollywood movie by Ang Lee in 2005, for creating an opera. In 2014 this was realised at the Teatro Real in Madrid by the composer Charles Wuorinen and Annie Proulx (libretto). As their basis they took the 45-page novella by Proulx, published in The New Yorker in 1997. It tells, in short episodes, the love story of two cowboys, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, which begins in 1963 and ends with Jack's death in 1983.
Everybody who is familiar with Charles Wuorinen’s compositions knows that he likes to write for large orchestra. However, this is not possible at the Salzburger Landestheater, as the orchestra pit only has space for a maximum of 40 musicians. The composer therefore worked over his opera especially for this production, and delivered a version for chamber orchestra with only 24 musicians. In this version he used mainly wind instruments and percussion.
In the programme you can read Charles Wuorinen’s own thoughts on his opera: "The music shows the rough grandeur of the mountain (...) the mountain lives and breathes and the music also makes audible the turbulences in nature through storms." These effects are experienced by the audience in the chamber version, too. Adrian Kelly led the musicians of the Mozarteum Orchestra with clear movements through various bar and tempo changes, leaving nothing to be desired. Only the volume of the orchestra could have been slightly less intense as the orchestra was occasionally too loud for the performance space and, as a result, the singers were covered by the orchestra sometimes.
In this Austrian premiere the two main characters were sung by Florian Plock (Ennis de Mar) and Mark Omvlee (Jack Twist). The bass-baritone Plock had excellent diction and sang with darker colouring. His acting was also convincing and he conveyed the conversion of his character well, as intended by the composer: from taciturn lonely cowboy at the beginning to loving man, who puts his loss into words in an arioso at the end. His opposite number was the Dutchman Omvlee, who had already sung the role of Jack at the German premiere in Aachen in 2014. With equally good textual clarity he mastered the role seemingly easily. Only when singing top notes it sounded sometimes rather tight and a little nasal. Nevertheless, he gave a convincing performance and demonstrated considerable talent.

Credit should also be given to the supporting cast: Raimundas Juzuitis (Aguirre), Hailey Clark (Alma), Rowan Hellier (Lureen) and Anna Maria Major (Mrs. Twist). Clark’s and Hellier’s voice colours changed as her characters did: from the the young girl in love who is not yet married to a frustrated and jealous wife. Unfortunately, both singers as well as Juzuitis could not always be heard clearly.
The staging of Jacopo Spirei treated the subject neutrally. The first act was dominated by Brokeback Mountain. The second act represented the various scenes on the revolving stage, but again the mountain was omnipresent when a part of it was placed on the rotating stage. Along with the costumes by Eva Musil, who was also responsible for the set, the production is good, overall, but nothing special. The only thought-provoking aspect, in my opinion, is the blue sky in the background in front of which the shirts are hanging at the end. .
In summary: a successful production that can be heard and seen, although it has small weaknesses here and there. 8 stars.
Reviewed by Katharina Schiller

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