Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Brokeback Mountain – Part 2: Two Drafts and a Princess Phone

So I guess I made my point yesterday that the music of Brokeback Mountain – The Opera just isn’t that engaging. In fact, it's so unengaging, that early in the performance, I started focusing on the surroundings, right down to tiny details that shouldn’t matter. 

The sets ranged from non-existent to claustrophobic: two household sets are squeezed onto the stage, making it look like a used furniture warehouse. Maybe that’s the point: the men are suffocating under the constrained, traditional lives they’ve built to deny their true natures. But if the set is going for ultra-realism (sometimes—the homes anyway) it’d help to use period props.

I also noticed—it just jumped out at me—when the boys go to the bar (that rises out of the stage—that bit was kind of cool, but also kind of "what the...?") and ask for two drafts, the barkeep hands them two bottles of beer. I know I'm being overly literal, but couldn’t they just change the line to “gimme two beers” instead of “gimme two drafts”?
Maybe I shouldn’t have been focusing on the beers, or the modern European phone (not a princess phone—another clash with the libretto—at least it was pink…I think), clothes iron, and washer/dryer. Maybe I shouldn’t have been distracted by these details; but frankly, the music wasn’t holding my attention. 

The stage director and designers did their best (distracting sets/props aside) I guess, but the opera itself worked against them all the way. Staging and Personenregie are strong here. In fact, the cast is wonderful. Daniel Okulitch (Ennis) and Tom Randle (Jack) convincing in every way: vocal, dramatic, physically. The other singers, even the non-native-English-speaking singers, do a great job with (I hate to keep saying it) the little they were given to work with. This piece cannot have been fun or rewarding to learn. 

So, Bravi to the cast, especially our lead cowboys, for throwing themselves into the production. And a big Boo to Mr. Wuorinen for creating two hours of frustrating, difficult, boring, unattractive, unromantic, and, most of all, unrewarding music. 

Brokeback Mountain can be viewed on for about 2.5 months.

P. S. All that being said, even though Brokeback Mountain wasn't quite the opera I wanted to hear, apparently it's the opera Mr. Wuorinen wanted to write. The good news is that (unless Annie Proulx says no) someone else could always write a new Brokeback Mountain opera. After all, there are several versions of Manon, The Barber of Seville, La Boheme, La Clemenza di Tito...

Related Posts

Brokeback Mountain – Part 1: A Missed Opportunity

NPR Piece on Brokeback Mountain – The Opera

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