When a man is used to achieving just about everything he sets his mind on, looking back often means thinking about the things that could not be. And for the moment, in the persuasive résumé of Belgian director Gérard Mortier, there is one name that is marked in red letters: Pedro Almodóvar. "I have an opera for him. With someone like Almodóvar, I can wait 50 years," says the chief of Teatro Real.
So fans of the Spanish film director should not expect a production of his anytime soon at the Madrid opera house, which has just announced its program for the 2013/2014 season. Of the 12 opera titles on the program, six are new productions.
Coincidentally, the third program designed by Mortier for the Madrid theater has the kind of plot that Almodóvar likes so well: women and love in all of its manifestations. This is evident in the two productions by Christoph Willibald Gluck, Orphée et Eurydice (in a magnificent stage production by the late German choreographer Pina Bausch) and Alceste, under the direction of Krzysztof Warlikowski.
"This work shows us that nobody can die in somebody else's place," the artistic director muses.
Also versing on love, especially the kind of love that occurs outside marriage and must be concealed ("it might be that great love only happens outside marriage" - Mortier has said) are Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (with video installations by Bill Viola) and Brokeback Mountain, the new world premiere by Teatro Real, based on the short story by Annie Proulx with music by Charles Wuorinen - a musician whom Mortier situates on the opposite shore from Philip Glass (author of The Perfect American, the Real's most recent premiere). Everyone involved in this production says it steers clear of the romanticism on display in the Ang Lee movie.
The other major theme of the season is America and the New World through an unpremiered version of Henry Purcell's The Indian Queen and Wolfgang Rihm's Die Eroberung von Mexico.
Finally, to appease the critics who say he never programs popular, conservative operas, Mortier has thrown in The Barber of Seville and L'elisir d'amore; "bel canto for the people who only want to hear that," said Mortier.