Monday, December 7, 2009

The First Emperor, opera

Tan Dun's The First Emperor is that rarity, a new opera commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. I had not seen it but in the class today they showed a DVD of the live performance shortly after it opened. I expected to dislike it and possibly leave at the midpoint break. But I stayed, held by curiosity not delight. I was often fascinated by the musical instruments and their players [the drummers who held stones in their hands, for instance]. Very much so by the occasional visions of the composer conducting -- so alive, so totally a part of the music. When the Met wishes to present grand opera no one can do it grander -- the set, the lighting, the costumes, the choreography, the stage direction were all spectacular and beautiful.

The story was simpler than it needed to be, the various plot moments sometimes seemed like plot months. Although sung in English subtitles were a great help, although the poetic was sometimes pathetic. Although there was a final great peaon to "China" the anthem that was a propelling motive was that of the hapless and almost hopeless laborers, the untold thousands who built the great wall under the whip. The first emperor was a despot upon whom Mao could have modeled himself [possibly did]. A book burning tyrant who, unlike Mao [and the current crew] actually allowed someone to call him "tyrant" to his face, and listened, but did not learn from, criticism. [I take this as purest fiction.] One cannot see this opera without political thoughts, of course. It could have been shorter and more powerful. I'm glad I saw it. It's rather like reading a book that is hard to get through, but that finally gives one food for thought. I've gone to Wikipedia for reviews and will go back and read more. This is probably the one mentally challenging bit from my foray into "adult education" this fall.

1 comment:

Kass said...

Being an opera buff, I would have loved to have seen this and discussed it with interested people. You sure do challenge yourself in a lot of ways.