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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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

 
Interesting if not wholly successful
31 January 2012 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

As a big opera fan and of Placido Domingo, I was all for seeing this Met production of Tan Dan's The First Emperor, an opera I had never heard before. There were definitely some good things, but there was also a number of things I didn't like so much. First off, the costumes(apart from the two male leads, very unflattering), lighting and sets are stunning and further advantaged by the always great High Defintion that this Met series is shot in.

The First Emperor itself is an interesting enough opera especially in its fusion of Eastern and Western music, but at the end of the day I found nothing exceptional about it, finding that not much stuck in my head afterwards especially in the more conventional territory. The libretto also has little connection to the musical lines with some of the more poetic lines coming across as silly(such as snow fluttering), and the story is over-simplistic and in places too broad.

Other than the production values, there are other virtues, primarily the dancing which is very colourful, especially Dau Dong Huang's in the second act. Also to the excellent orchestral playing and the opening and closing scenes were very effective. There is some great principal singing. I think the best is Elizabeth Futral. Some of her music is on the bizarre side, but she commands the stage wonderfully and she does what she can with her music even if her voice with an occasionally too wide vibrato is not exactly what I call beautiful.

Placido Domingo does bravely in the title role. That said, coming from somebody who has been a big fan of Domingo for years now, I don't think this is him at his best. That is not to say he's bad, just that he's done better. Some of his top may have some huskiness possibly because his voice has darkened over the years, but the tone generally does have its usual burnished clarity and he sings musically. His acting is commanding if not quite becoming the character as Domingo had such a talent for.

If there was a letdown to Domingo's performance, it was his diction. In fairness his diction was never the crystal clear diction in that you could dictate what he sang(a la Pavarotti), but in his prime especially there was always attention to detail in that area. Here he sings his music with a rather too heavy accent. The vowels are good, but consonants are too soft and hard to hear sometimes. Domingo is not the only one though to suffer from not so good diction, there are numerous times in the performance where the singers sound tongue-tied for some reason, causing me to do something I rarely do watching opera, put on the subtitles.

The rest of the principals are good but not great. Paul Groves' singing is confident and he has no problem hitting high Cs, and Michelle DeYoung's mezzo soprano voice has a big range from low F to high C. On the other hand, apart from Futral and Domingo, the acting is not great in all honesty. It does not help that the staging is so static with exception of the dancing. What goes on on stage is very minimal; not only that, it doesn't always follow the libretto either, such as showing a scene in the prison where Gao is being detained when First Emperor says "bring him hither".

All in all, it didn't quite work for me, but it was interesting enough. 5/10 Bethany Cox


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