I’ve become a little wary of operas based on best selling novels and/or Hollywood films so I approached Charles Wuorinen’s Brokeback Mountain with a certain amount of skepticism. I should not have. It’s a Gerard Mortier commission; originally for NYCO but, following that débacle, it followed him to the Teatro Real in Madrid where it premiered in 2014. The libretto is an adaptation by Annie Proulx of her original story. Always a good sign.
The New American Art Song is a CD of, unsurprisingly, American art songs. Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch is accompanied by the composers in four contrasting sets. The first set is Quiet Lives by Ricky Ian Gordon; eight songs setting texts by various poets. The music is tonal with occasional elements of minimalism but overall a bit of a retro “piano lounge” feel that didn’t particularly excite me.
Second up were two songs, Of Gods and Cats, by Jake Heggie to texts by Gavin Geoffrey Gillard. These are sly, witty, jazzy and much more contemporary sounding. Much more musically inventive too. It’s easy to see why Heggie is in the upper tier of contemporary American composers. The disc also has a bonus Heggie song; a setting of Browning’s Grow Old Along With Me, that I really liked.