Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, June 20, 2008


THE FIRST EMPEROR. Composed by Tan Dun. Shown on Great Performances at the Met. TV Director: Brian Large.

The three main characters in this epic story are Qin, the first Emperor of China, his crippled daughter Yueyang, and his old friend, the composer Gao Jianli. Qin wants Jianli to compose an anthem for his empire, and takes extreme measures to try to bring this about. Jianli's village is enslaved, and while Qin greets him as a brother, Jianli is enraged by his actions. Jianli's mother was killed in Qin's attempt to "unify the land." Although Yueyang has been promised to the General who took Jianli's village, she falls instead for Jianli -- and vice versa. This leads to some arresting and dramatic developments.

Composer Tan Dun responds to this very interesting libretto by Dun and Ha Yin with music that is lyrical but never that melodious in the true sense, although at times it has a mild Puccini-esque quality. There is an occasional arioso such as "Like a stream rushing to the sea" (the opera is sung in English). Startlingly, members of the orchestra serve as the chorus. In this handsome production, Placido Domingo was Qin, Paul Groves was Jianli, and Elizabeth Futral was Yueyang; all did fine work. Dun conducted his own score, which has many interesting moments.

Verdict: Not for all tastes but not without merit. **1/2.

No comments: