A perfect Valentine opera for gay couples
LIVE FEED - Bibsy M. Carballo (The Philippine Star) - February 14, 2014 - 12:00am

If you are gay and in love, we are certain you were one of those millions who contributed to making the film Brokeback Mountain, adapted from Annie Proulx’s 1997 New Yorker short story, the unexpected hit it became in 2005. And what is more amazing is that it would win 71 awards and 52 nominations that floored even much-awarded Taiwanese director Ang Lee.

But this was not to be the end of Brokeback Mountain. Not surprisingly, the film about a love story between two cowboys in Wyoming has been reinvented into an opera, with original author Proulx writing the libretto. She asserts that the medium of opera presented an opportunity to explore the depths of the human heart in a manner that neither her own short story, nor the movie by director Ang Lee was able to do.

And now comes the news that Brokeback Mountain, The Opera, had been chosen to premiere in Madrid, Spain last January, with a regular run this month, at the venerable Theatro Real at that. We can just see our gay friends residing in Madrid rejoicing at the thought.

But how did this all begin? We surmise that the movie came at a time when gay rights were the topic of the day in the US. There is news that Brokeback is only one of several gay-themed operas that were initiated in America, the others being Oscar on the life of bisexual Oscar Wilde, Champion about gay boxer Emile Griffith and Two Boys shown at the Metropolitan Opera House last fall.

Everyone knows that Roman Catholic Spain is the European capital that led in the acceptance of same-sex marriages.

Regarding the transformation of the film to Brokeback, The Opera, we can only refer to notes and interviews with composer Charles Wuorinen. The basic difference between the film treatment and that of the opera, is that the Brokeback Mountain of Ang Lee is a love story set in a beautiful landscape, with handsome teen idols and lush cinematography that prettified the atmosphere. Yes, it was a sad story, but the impact of separation had been diminished by the returning home of the lovers to their respective families.

In the opera version, we are told to expect a Brokeback Mountain that is unfriendly, and a landscape that is deadly. There were problems inherent to opera that had to be dealt with. American tenor Tom Randle played the role of Jack Twist, which Jake Gyllenhaal portrayed in the film. Canadian bass baritone Daniel Okulitch was Ennis del Mar portrayed by Heath Ledger in the Ang Lee film. It was this character of Ennis who was most affected by the secret affair.

Composer Wuorinen opines that a portrayal aided by quiet close-ups can be most affecting on film. “But when a man can barely speak, how do you make him sing?” Ennis in the opera starts as completely inarticulate. He nods and when prodded, he shouts. Wuorinen turned to the aid of Sprechstimme, a technique between singing and speaking that Arnold Schöenberg developed in works like Pierrot Lunaire. He made Jack easygoing and impulsive, and Ennis deeper and more impassive. But as the opera progresses, he stops this atonal rendering and allows Ennis to sing more and more. Finally, when he is alone and able to express himself completely, Ennis sings out loud of his deepest darkest secrets.

 To an absolute neophyte in opera watching, the entire process can be discombobulating, if not entirely disconcerting. Composer Wuorinen had also put in two additions of a chorus of townspeople portraying the suffocating social pressures on the lovers at that time, and a voice emerging from the portrait of Jack’s father that could have been completely stilted in the hands of a less adroit master.

We hope to be able to watch this opera which is said to be in English, when it comes to the Philippines and treat it as a guide in opera viewing. We are reminded by the recent experimental opera on Andres Bonifacio shown at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) which left audiences amazed and petrified.

Meantime, paging CCP to please start the ball rolling to work on getting Brokeback Mountain, The Opera to Philippine shores.

(E-mail your comments to bibsyfotos@yahoo.com or text 0917-8991835.)

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