Applying a libretto to Hollywood gold has traditionally served as a recipe for camp disaster: see the recent undersea shambolics of Disney’s Broadway resuscitation of The Little Mermaid or, even better, 1988’s legendarily botched and blood-soaked Carrie: The Musical. But with the New York City Opera’s recent commission of another book-to-blockbuster property, this tawdry trend may finally receive it’s up-market renaissance: polish your boots, boys, for the 2013 stage premiere of Brokeback Mountain.
Opera doesn’t really tap into the gay cultural stereotyping of its musical theater kid-sister, which makes the choice of genre for this landmark homosexuals-on-horses remake not only compelling in its unorthodoxy, but ambitious in its bucking of commercial instinct. Factor in the artistic pedigree of the piece’s composer, Pulitzer Prize-winning, MacArthur Foundation Fellow Charles Wuorinen, and the endeavor almost begins to seem capable of breaking bank on its basically preposterous concept.
"Ever since encountering Annie Proulx’s extraordinary story I have wanted to make an opera on it,” stated Wuorinen, who’s earlier works include an operatic redux of Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and something called Theologoumenon. “It gives me great joy that Gerard Mortier and New York City Opera have given me the opportunity to do so."
Considering the intellectual stretch between the inevitably middlebrow tenor of mainstream cinema and the half-millennia old history of Western art music, the jump between fat ladies in viking helmets and studly queens in cowboy hats may prove wider than Wuorinen’s words suggest.
Unsurprisingly, his isn’t the first attempt by a musician to co-opt Ang Lee’s masterwork. Back in July of last year, BlogCritics Magazine posted an article claiming that Brokeback was headed for Broadway starring James Marsden and Hugh Jackman, who busted out his singing chops for a Tony-winning role in The Boy From Oz back in 2002. According to Chris Evans, a junior at Manhattan Marymount College studying communications at the time this advance synopsis was written, the cash flow prompted by a Wolverine/Cyclops hookup would set venue records: “Many will turn out just to see them kiss on stage,” gushed the writer.
While that project seems to have fizzled, we would be advised to remain optimistic about Wuorinen’s great, gay whale. The man is, after all, an ostensible genius. And think about it: if La Boheme eventually begat Rent, it will be a mere hundred years before we finally get to hear “I Wish I Could Quit You” belted out by some hunky chanteuse in spurs.