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Ensemble

Opera at the Movies

MARIA NOCKIN experiences
Tan Dun's 'The First Emperor'

 

The libretto for the new opera, The First Emperor, by novelist Ha Jin and composer Tan Dun, is based on the historical records left by Sima Qian (c145-85 BC) and on Wei Lu's screenplay for the 1996 Chinese film, The Emperor's Shadow. The movie, which did not purport to be historically accurate, was banned in the People's Republic of China immediately after its release, possibly because the writer took considerable artistic license, but eight months later permission was granted and it was shown across China. On 21 December 2006, the new opera composed by Tan Dun received its world première at the Metropolitan Opera in a production that will later be seen at Los Angeles Opera.

Placido Domingo as Emperor Qin and Hao Jiang Tian as General Wang in Tan Dun's 'The First Emperor'. Photo © 2007 Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Placido Domingo as Emperor Qin and Hao Jiang Tian as General Wang in Tan Dun's 'The First Emperor'. Photo © 2007 Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Dun was born in Hunan, China, in 1957. Growing up during the Cultural Revolution when no western art was permitted and most Chinese artists were required to do menial work, the prospective musician worked in the fields as a rice planter. Later, he was able to study at Beijing's Central Conservatory. There, he recalls hearing the music of J S Bach for the first time and thinking that it was a medicine that could cure every suffering. A few years later, he came to New York City to work on his doctorate at Columbia University. Dun is a prolific composer who has written for varied types of musical groups. His score for Ang Lee's film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won him an 'Oscar'.

A scene from Tan Dun's 'The First Emperor'. Photo © 2007 Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
A scene from Tan Dun's 'The First Emperor'. Photo © 2007 Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Dun's previous operatic compositions include: Marco Polo (1995), The Peony Pavilion (1998), and Tea, a mirror of the Soul (1998). The latter work will be presented at Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico this coming summer.

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Copyright © 21 January 2007 Maria Nockin, Arizona USA

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