By Mario R. Mercado
March 08, 2014

One of the most anticipated new operas of 2014 has premiered at Madrid’s Teatro Real: Brokeback Mountain, with a libretto by Annie Proulx, based on her short story, and a score by American composer Charles Wuorinen. Brokeback Mountainis, of course, widely known because of the acclaimed 2005 film by Ang Lee that starred Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, as Wyoming sheep-herders, who fall in love in a landscape and a time inhospitable to their passion.

How did it end up in Madrid? Gerard Mortier, the one-time general manager of New York City Opera, commissioned the work for that company, but when he left to take on the directorship of the Teatro Real—and with the subsequent collapse of NYCO—he brought the project to Spain, where it has had its premiere. The text is in English and the largely North American cast includes bass baritone Daniel Okulitch, as Ennis del Mar, who, as in the movie, undergoes the greater transformation, a change that is reflected in the music. Okulitch says, “Ennis is taciturn, a mumbler. He expresses himself at first through a type of speech-song. As del Mar finds himself, he sings more and more.” Wuorinen, admired for the rigor and the complexity of his scores, has made of the mountain—and its potential perils—a musical presence. There are no sentimental Cowboy songs here. “The drama is heightened,” says Okulitch, “which is the nature of opera, and which presents a reality in which music dictates the subtext.” In an inspired bit of programming (and marketing), Brokeback Mountain runs in repertory with Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, likewise a work of doomed love.

Never shy about subject matter, Mortier has commissioned another world premiere for the Teatro Real 2014-15 season: El Público (The Audience) by contemporary composer Mauricio Sotelo, based on the stage play by Federico García Lorca.

Mario R. Mercado is arts editor at Travel + Leisure.