The Metropolitan Opera HD Live: Season 1, Episode 3

The First Emperor (24 Mar. 2007)

TV Episode  -   -  Music
7.8
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 20 users  
Reviews: 2 user | 1 critic

To unite the lands he has conquered, the First Emperor of China, believes that a national anthem is needed. He hires a childhood friend to compose it for him, not realizing that his friend does not share the Emperor's aspirations.

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(libretto), (libretto)
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Title: The First Emperor (24 Mar 2007)

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Cast

Episode credited cast:
...
Elizabeth Futral ...
Princess Yueyang, daughter of the Emperor
Paul Groves ...
Gao Jianli, a composer
Hsing-kuo Wu ...
The Yin-Yang Master (as Wu Hsing-Kuo)
Michelle DeYoung ...
The Shaman
Hao Jiang Tian ...
General Wang
Susanne Mentzer ...
Mother of the Princess
Haijing Fu ...
Chief Minister
Danrell Williams ...
Guard
Dou Dou Hunang ...
Principal Dancer
Qi Yao ...
Zheng Player
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Metropolitan Opera Ballet ...
Dancers
Wang Chaoge ...
Herself - Co-director
Joseph Clark ...
Himself - Technical manager
Raymond Hughes ...
Himself - Chorus master
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Storyline

To unite the lands he has conquered, the First Emperor of China, believes that a national anthem is needed. He hires a childhood friend to compose it for him, not realizing that his friend does not share the Emperor's aspirations.

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Music

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Release Date:

24 March 2007 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

16:9 HD
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User Reviews

 
He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy
1 September 2007 | by (Birmingham, England) – See all my reviews

This is Tan Dun's fourth opera. In it he successfully attempts to fuse aspects of traditional Chinese music with the western classical tradition. The New York Metropolitan orchestra is supplemented by, amongst other novelties, a troupe of drummers, men rubbing stones together and an excellent Zheng player. The Zheng looks a bit like a harp lying on its side and must be very painful to play because Qi Yao, the soloist has fingers covered in sticking plaster, rather like me after a heavy session of home improvement.

The problem for me is in the English libretto, composed jointly by Tan Dun himself and by Ha Jin. The words just do not fit the music, which, quite clearly, is composed to fit Chinese speech rhythms. It is as though Tan Dun conceived the work in Chinese and then translated his thoughts to create the libretto.

Plácido Domingo, at an age when he could be forgiven for slowing down slightly, bravely tackles the title role of the Emperor Qin. He has some magnificent musical moments, particularly during the first act, despite the fact that he is singing Chinese voice rhythms, in English with a strong Spanish accent. I complained about the otiose English subtitles for the Met's Magic Flute a couple of weeks ago but subtitles were never more necessary than in this opera for anyone who wants to follow what is going on.

Domingo apart, this production is a triumph for Soprano Elizabeth Futral. She is a sensational Princess Yueyang and is the most successful of the soloists in combining the eastern and western elements in the music and in making sense of the libretto. Rather naughtily, in the making of film, Tan Dun tells her, in front of the the other principals, that she needs further coaching because she is not aristocratic enough during her lovemaking scene. She looks rather peeved but I think she could justifiably have impaled him on his own Zheng.

Nothing so dramatic occurs on stage. The costumes are a visual delight but the production is strangely static. The principals perform on a narrow stage with ten tiers of chorus behind them, so we get the impression more of an oratorio, something like Handel's Messiah, rather than an opera. I have to confess that I nodded off halfway through the second act as the chorus, building the Great Wall were singing "How long is this wall?" I awoke about twenty minutes later as Domingo was singing: "Lord of Heaven, how long?" I do not think that I missed much.


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