[Met Performance] CID:351734
World Premiere
The First Emperor {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/21/2006., Sirius Brodcast live

(Debuts: Tan Dun, Zhang Yimou, Fan Yue, Emi Wada, Wang Chaoge, Dou Dou Huang, Wu Hsing-Kuo, Qi Yao, Danrell Williams

Metropolitan Opera House
December 21, 2006 Broadcast/Streamed

World Premiere


Emperor Qin.............Plácido Domingo
Princess Yueyang........Elizabeth Futral
Gao Jianli..............Paul Groves
Chief Minister..........Haijing Fu
General Wang............Hao Jiang Tian
Mother of Yueyang.......Susanne Mentzer
Yin-Yang Master.........Wu Hsing-Kuo [Debut]
Shaman..................Michelle DeYoung
Guard...................Danrell Williams [Debut]
Principal Dancer........Dou Dou Huang [Debut]
Zheng player............Qi Yao [Debut]

Conductor...............Tan Dun [Debut]

Production..............Zhang Yimou [Debut]
Co-Director.............Wang Chaoge [Debut]
Set Designer............Fan Yue [Debut]
Costume Designer........Emi Wada [Debut]
Lighting Designer.......Duane Schuler
Choreographer...........Dou Dou Huang [Debut]

The First Emperor was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and is a co-production with the Los Angeles Opera

Commission made possible by a gift of The Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trust

Production a gift of The Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trust and The Starr Foundation

Broadcast live on Sirius Metropolitan Opera Radio
Streamed live at metopera.org

The First Emperor received nine performances this season

Review of Joshua Rosenbloom in the March 2007 issue of OPERA NEWS

In Tan Dun's "The First Emperor," Emperor Qin Shi Huang sings, "Although you seduced (my daughter) Yueyang, outraged General Wang, and sullied my name, I will still forgive you as long as you finish the anthem." Would that composers today were afforded this kind of protected status! Qin is the controversial emperor of the ride of Tan Dun's protean new opera, commissioned by the Met and coproduced with Los Angeles Opera, which had its world premiere at the Met on December 21. It was he who forcibly unified the seven warring provinces of China and built the Great Wall in third-century B.C.E.

In Tian's retelling of Qin's story in the libretto he cowrote with novelist Ha Jin - the emperor's vision includes the composing of a national song to project the new country's glory. Qin believes only his boyhood friend Gao Jianli is suited to this task, but when the emperor invades and conquers Jianli's home province of Yan he earns Jianli's fierce enmity. After Jianli is wounded and captured during the siege of Yan, he is nursed back to health and seduced by Qin's strong-willed daughter, Princess Yueyang. This infuriates Qin's military leader General Wang, who has been promised the princess's hand in marriage. By the end of the opera, the princess has taken her own life, Jianli has murdered the General, and the much-anticipated anthem, to the Emperor's consternation, turns out to be the lamentation of the slave laborers who are building the Great Wall. The opera concludes with, the great Met chorus arrayed on designer Fan Yue's spectacular staircase set, singing the blues, Chinese-style.

Much has been made of the Chinese-born composer's use of both Eastern and Western elements in his music, but Tan has said that he does not divide his musical thinking this way. When traditional Chinese music appears in its indigenous form in "The First Emperor" - as with the [beginning] Peking Opera-style recitation by the Yin-Yang Master - it is soon curtly dismissed by the Emperor himself. "Is this music?" he demands. "Moving neither Heaven nor Earth, how can it touch the heart?" Whether or not Emperor touches the heart is subjective, but the Met's presentation is undeniably magnificent. After the solo turn by the Yin-Yang Master (the riveting Wu Hsing-Kuo), the curtain rises on the huge chorus in battle attire, and they take up the rhythmic chanting. Across the front of the stage are a dozen percussionists, striking large Chinese drums using stones instead of sticks. Down left are three additional musicians, one a virtuoso zheng player (an ancient zither). The resulting melange of stage musicians, pit percussion, ritualistic dancing and choral chanting is electrifying.

Once Plácido Domingo makes his entrance as the Emperor, the music veers into Tan's unique brand of lyricism; melodies spring from the recognizably Asian pentatonic scale, but they feature the long-lined beauty of traditional Western opera, spiked with gnawing dissonances and unexpected leaps. The composer has deep appreciation for sensual beauty, but he is also immensely sophisticated. In fact, he draws expertly on such a wide range of influences to create his distinctive brew that labeling them "Eastern" or "Western" seems beside the point. Domingo, singing a world premiere for the first time at the Met - and still in glowing voice at sixty-five - has so much star power that one could ignore the fact that he was singing the words of a Chinese ruler in Spanish-accented English. With the exception of a few choice high-lying passages, it's primarily a high baritone part, commensurate with the way Domingo's voice has settled in his maturity, and it's enormously flattering.

The dazzling Elizabeth Futral sang Yueyang, the impetuous royal daughter betrothed to the wrong man. In her first scene with Jianli, Yueyang has a gorgeous, rangy aria in which Futral's liquid phrasing melded perfectly with the text's beautiful snow imagery. As she began her seduction, Futral handled the decidedly non-Western swooping and sliding of her vocal lines effortlessly. In an Act II scene with Domingo, wherein Qin compares his daughter to the sun, Futral's singing was obligingly blazing and radiant in melodies that challenge the ear even as they massage it.

Paul Groves's Jianli rose magnificently to Futral's level; their love duets had urgency and danger. In the climactic inauguration scene, Groves's commandeering of the proceedings was spellbinding. Yueyang and General Wang (the reverberant bass Hao Jiang Tian) both have mesmerizing back-from-the-dead ghost scenes, with some passages pitilessly accompanied only by the clanging of a huge onstage bronze bell. Michelle DeYoung, as the Shaman, delivered sonorous incantations with her alluring mezzo, and Susanne Mentzer, as Yueyang's mother, sang with agility and warmth as the peacemaker during royal family spats.

The achievements of the design team, headed by Zhang Yimou, China's leading film director, were extraordinary, even by Met standards. Emi Wada's astonishing costumes sometimes performed double duty: when the chorus did an about-face in the inauguration scene, their dazzlingly colored robes revealed themselves as stark black and white on the other side, to stunning effect. Duane Shuler's versatile lighting sometimes provided clever subtext, as when the entire stage brightened at the first mention of "The Shadow" (a nickname for Jianli). The nearly three-and-a-half-hour evening flew by, propelled by Tan's ceaselessly inventive, dramatically savvy' music. The composer himself conducted, with clarity and full authority, as the Met Orchestra adapted to the event's unusual requirements with its customary expertise.

Production photos of The First Emperor by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

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