I Just Can’t Quit Gerard Mortier

Speaking of L. Ro….

Her WNYC blog is seriously rockin’. For a major dance critic to allow such open and detailed discourse on subjects is fierce.

Right now, she’s got a post up about the recent announcement that THE NYC OPERA WILL BE PRODUCING CHARLES WUORINEN’S “BROKE BACK MOUNTAIN” OPERA!!! Thank god Wuorinen found a taker. And it’s no surprise that it’s Mortier. Fierce and fiercer. For realz.

I posted a little comment (here), which I’ll include below…

OMG. Hot, hot, hot.

So, a few things.

1st: To my knowledge, there has never been an opera of any significant magnitude (that is, of international recognition or admittance into “the repertoire”) whose central characters (even secondary characters) are homosexual (maybe “Ainadamar,” except that the opera is more about the women in Lorca’s life that it was about him and/or any gay sex he may have had). The romantic paradigm of opera is the male/female love story. BBM: The Opera is surely historic. Politically. Artistically. Culturally. I mean, has there ever been a same-sex romantic kiss on the opera stage? Please tell me if I’ve missed it. Because I hate to miss that kind of thing.

2nd: Of COURSE Mortier is going to produce it. The man’s a genius, and in one fell swoop has already caused NYers to look at The City Opera and think, WTF?

3rd: To put this story in the hands of a serialist composer is a divine choice. I don’t want to imagine how cheesy and gross it would sound in the hands of a neo-Romantic composer. Particularly since cinematic scores are almost entirely derivative of 19th century aesthetics. To take the story out of its cinematic musical context (the music to Ang Lee’s film was beautiful, but definitely popular and romantic) is pure genius. It should allow Wuorinen to tap into psychological/emotional areas that popular aesthetics prohibit.

4th: This opera would also break the moratorium on telling contemporary stories in opera; even in NEW opera. Anything to contemporize the subjectivity of this art form is welcome. As is gay sex. Pretty much, all the time.



  1. Actually, two of the lead characters in Michael Tippett’s opera “The Knot Garden” are gay. Just saying.

  2. Awesome, Osbert. Thanks for the info.

    Have you seen it? Is it good?

    And has it been staged by major opera houses in the U.S.? Even in NYC, for that matter?

    I’d love to know more.

  3. Peter Eotvos wrote an opera (on a libretto by Mari Mezei) based on Tony Kushers Angels in America.

  4. Thanks, J!

    Have you seen it? Didja like it?

    A commenter over at The Culturist mentioned an opera called “Patience & Sarah.” Has anybody seen/heard it?


  5. There is also the Harvey Milk opera done at NYC Opera (I think in the 90s?) and I saw a Golden Fleece production of Richard Brooks’s “Robert and Hal” last weekend.


  6. Well, for gay characters in opera, there’s also the Countess Geschwitz in Lulu — IMO the real star of that opera, titular Lulu not withstanding.

  7. Incidentally, here’s Ivan Katz on BBM:TO –


    While he brings up a fair point with the comment “The whole point [of BBM] is not that the two cowboys “could not fulfill their lives the way they wanted to.” The point is that they could have, but didn’t. It is the polar opposite of the old song Taking a Chance On Love. To turn Brokeback Mountain into a polemic is to cheapen it beyond measure,” his view of serialist composition as being logical, sterile, and unemotional is as trite and wrong as ever. See aforementioned Lulu, with its ingeniously derived tone rows, musical and operatic symmetry, and almost over-emotional plot. I’m also not sure about Katz’s rather limited view of what is and is not operatic, and TBH he seems totally unfamiliar with 20th century “avant garde” opera in general.

  8. Wow. Thanks for pointing me to this. Katz kind of has his head up his ass. On one hand, he’s saying that Annie Proulx’s story isn’t very operatic or, what he really means, emotional; that it’s economical. Yet, he criticizes Charles Wuorinen for not being emotional as well. If he really took the time to reflect on his words, he would realize that, in theory, he should believe Charles Wuorinen would be a perfect match as a composer to write BBM the opera. Neither the story nor the composer are sentimental. Sounds like a fit to me, and a good risk.

    I’ve also never understood critics who think they can predict something is going to be bad just by the idea of it. The only way we’ll know if the opera is good or bad is when we go see it. Although, I have a feeling Mr. Katz has already made up his mind.

    Oh, and that other commenter is right for calling him out on his douchey description of gay sex.

  9. I think you hit the nail on the head with “sentimental.” Wuorinen’s music, while never sentimental, can be quite emotional in its own way (I’m thinking of the string sextet in particular here) and certainly doesn’t fall within the “packs the emotional wallop of a statistics textbook” category. Likewise BBM is emotional in its own way — while it is, as you say economical, the economy of emotion (as opposed to excesses of sentiment) is what makes it powerful. It’s a work that provokes emotion without succumbing to emotionalism, if that makes any sense.

    If Katz had his way we’d probably be getting neo-romantic operas based off of classical mythology packed to bursting with sentiment. Had quite enough of that, thanks. (Okay, maybe I’m being a bit unfair here, but really — his limited view of the scope of opera doesn’t even seem to have caught up with Wozzeck, let alone any subsequent modern opera.)

    Sometimes I get the feeling that critics think, or at least want us to think, that they are doing us a favor by predicting what will be bad right off the bat — like, “oh look, dear reader, I’ve spared you the trouble of having to be interested in this, because let’s face it, it’s going to suck anyway!” Some favor.

    I really must stop being so sarcastic and negative. I swear, I’m happy sometimes…

  10. I don’t know what it is about the idea of BBM the opera that makes most people roll their eyes. Because I’ve noticed the trend. Maybe I’ll do a more in depth post about it. I can’t help but think a lot of the reaction is latent homophobia…maybe not even phobia, but tiredness of having to deal with yet one more big gay moment? I mean, people who don’t even know who Charles Wuorinen is seem to have the same tenor of reaction that Katz has: “It’s going to be horrible.” This is, obviously, the EASY reaction, because standing behind the idea–like Wuorinen, Mortier and Proulx have done–requires pause, reflection, and getting behind some tricky social and political issues. Maybe? Just some thoughts.

  11. I just realized I have to think more on this. I’ll come up a post in the next few days. Stay tuned…

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