• Tan Dun
  • Marco Polo (1995)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)
  • 1(pic)1(ca)1(bcl)1(cbn)/2220/3perc/prpf.hp/str(min; world instruments: rec*.medieval hp*.rebec*.sitar.tabla*.2 Tibetan hn*.Tibetan bowls and bells(chorus).pipa.sheng; (* Musicians may double on world and western instruments). For information on Chinese instruments and performers, please contact Parnassus Productions, Inc.
  • chorus of at least 20; dancers
  • dramatic Tenor, 2 Mezzo sopranos, Bass, 2 Tenors, Baritone, Soprano, boy treble
  • 2 hr
  • Paul Griffiths
  • English

Programme Note

Marco Polo, an opera within an opera, marks a further stage in the composer Tan Dun's own spiritual journey, an exploration of a new language of music and performing arts through the fusion of Western avant-garde style with Eastern accent. Multi-cultural elements such as Peking Opera, Kabuki, Indonesian shadow theatre, and the face painting of Tibetan ritual are used. It has a duration under two hours, and plays without intermission.

In Marco Polo, the spiritual journey (the cycle of the spirit and of Nature), coexists with a physical journey from West to East. The former is explored in the Book of Timespace sections of the opera through the participation of Shadows, Memory, and Nature in a Peking-opera style. Interwoven are the legendary adventures of Marco Polo as he makes his journey from Italy to China. These sections are written in a more Western operatic style combining avant-garde and theatrical traditions and are played out by Beings, although with underlying echoes of the simultaneous spiritual journey provided by historical figures Dante, Shakespeare, and Li Po.

Along with the geographical journey from West to East there is an important musical journey. Above the orchestra and chorus, there is a spicy ensemble of medieval European, Indian, Tibetan, and Chinese instruments which illustrate the changing scenes of the geographic journey. The fantasy-dream world of the spiritual journey and the exciting stories of Marco Polo's voyage are two operas that merge with the same goal, the discovery of experience from past to present to future -- from the known to the unknown.

Cast List

   POLO: Dramatic Tenor

   MARCO: Mezzo-Soprano

   WATER, lover of Marco Polo: Soprano



Marco and Polo, led by the shadows of Dante and Scheherazade, journey from Venetian darkness across seas, deserts, and the high Himalayas to arrive at The Wall, where Kublai Khan awaits them. Medieval chant, ancient timbres, violence, longing, and the sensuality of nature open a world of light. In four dreams and three interviews, Marco and Polo are led by the Shadows of Shakespeare, Freud and John Cage to examine inner space. Chuang Zi dreams as a butterfly; Mahler and Li Po drink to the song of the earth. In China or elsewhere, is contact possible? Can love be achieved? Kublai still waits; Marco and Polo give way to Marco Polo; the unending begins.


Concerto for Orchestra (after Marco Polo): I. Light of Timespace
Concerto for Orchestra (after Marco Polo): II. Scent of Bazaar
Concerto for Orchestra (after Marco Polo): III. The Raga of Desert
Concerto for Orchestra (after Marco Polo): IV. The Forbidden City



  • The Operas of Tan Dun
    • The Operas of Tan Dun
    • The music of Chinese American composer Tan Dun invites the listener into a personal sound world that expertly marries Eastern and Western musical traditions.



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