Tan Dun: To Challenge and Be Challenged

Tan Dun: To Challenge and Be Challenged
© Parnassus Productions
"Ten years ago, when the Metropolitan Opera approached me with this commission, I began to think about the best way to revitalize the opera tradition and to expand it so that it's relevant to young people around the world. I knew that I must find a unique subject, a challenging format, and a new conceptual language to bridge the visual and musical aspects in more innovative ways than traditional opera had previously done." *

With that, Tan Dun harkens back to the brainstorming sessions behind his new opera The First Emperor, which premieres next month at The Met. The work features an English libretto by the composer and novelist Ha Jin. Award-winning filmmaker Zhang Yimou directs and Tan Dun conducts. Tenor Plácido Domingo originates the title role of an emperor widely recognized for unifying China and building The Great Wall.

Tan continues, "The story of The First Emperor is very familiar in China. It is a very human and tragic story. He was the first man to unify China and the Chinese language. But in doing so, he killed so many people and destroyed their culture and language. I thought it would be interesting to try to discover musically the process through which the Emperor attempted to find the soul of the people while establishing the nation. The soul did not yet exist — it was empty. The opera examines the Emperor's search for his own voice as well as the spirit of the nation.

"Thirty years ago, I was a Peking Opera musician, and since that time, I have also developed a great love of Western opera. Both are very dramatic and colorful, yet each is unique in its different art form. In this work, I wanted to continue the Western tradition while heightening the Eastern one. I wanted it to be melodic but challenging, romantic yet theatrical. I felt that it would be artistically provocative and fulfilling to link them together " out of two distinct forms " and create one different and new opera language. I'm looking forward to seeing how the audience reacts to this new vocabulary. The First Emperor will speak to the generation of today and tomorrow."*Tan Dun, as told to Elena Park of The Metropolitan Opera