brokeback mountain the opera

“Brokeback Mountain The Opera”

Another Look

Amos Lassen

 “Brokeback Mountain: The Opera” has a libretto by the creator of the original short story it’s based on, Annie Proulx. Originally written to be performed by the New York City Opera’s program that creates new works around ideas and stories that are familiar to a younger, less elite audience, General Director Gerard Mortier who moved from New York to the Teatro Real in Madrid, took it with him.

At first it seems very odd to watch big, husky cowboys singing operatically but once we get used to it, we are pulled in to the story that we all know so well—Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar meet when they are hired to look after sheep one summer on Brokeback Mountain. Initially Jack finds it hard to connect with the quiet Ennis, but soon they bond and an intense love affair ensues.

Brokeback Mountain, opera, 2014

At first, Ennis thinks that the sexual and emotional connection between him and Jack will stay on the mountain and he will go home and marry Alma. Jack also married. But then four years later the two men reconnect and from then on meet in secret. Jack wants something more and believes that they can find a way to be together even if they are living in Wyoming of the 60s. Ennis totally disagrees.

It takes about 15 minutes to realize the power of the story and then it becomes totally absorbing. Author Annie Proulx says in one of the extras that the opera adds psychological depth to the story. In the film we did not learn a great deal about the men’s wives and in the opera we see that what happened was not just about the effects of repression, homophobia on the men but on their wives as well. We also become very aware of what the men’s’ hidden lives means to their women.


I have always been a fan of classical opera but have not cared much for the contemporary operas that I have seen but I totally enjoyed this even though some of the score (composed by Charles Wuorinen) seems to hit us from all angles with its feelings and ideas. The mountain, for example, is presented as being eerily dark.

I’ll fully admit that I’m not always a big opera fan, as I often find it rather over the top and hyperbolic (although there are some brilliant pieces out there), but I thought Brokeback Mountain was really good. There are moments when Charles Wuorinen’s score feels like it’s bashing you over the head with the ideas and feelings it wants to convey, particularly the eerie darkness of the mountain itself, which is an almost constant theme through the 130 minute piece. However largely it’s extremely well done with the score acting as a strong support to bring out the themes of the story. The opera does wonderfully at taking the love of the two men for each other very seriously and it also shows how homophobia affects that love. Daniel Okulitch and Tom Randle are great as Ennis and Jack, and the staging is very effective.

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