Heading the cast is the tireless Plšcido Domingo as Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the 124th role in his repertoire. His onstage colleagues are an impressive lot: soprano Elizabeth Futral as his daughter, Princess Yueyang; mezzo Susanne Mentzer as Yueyang's mother; mezzo Michelle DeYoung as the court shaman; bass Hao Jiang Tian as General Wang; and tenor Paul Groves as Gao Jianli, the musician whom the Emperor commands to write an anthem which can unify the nation.
And, in another example of the blending of Chinese and Western musical traditions that form the basis of Tan Dun's aesthetic, Beijing Opera virtuoso Wu Hsing-Kuo appears as the Yin-Yang Master.
Tan Dun himself conducts the score, which combines the standard musical resources of Western grand opera with Asian flutes and percussion and even some water instruments. The libretto was written by National Book Award-winning novelist Ha Jin, in collaboration with the composer. And the staging — photos of which are offered below — is by the renowned Chinese filmmaker Zang Yimou, best know in the U.S. for Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers and Hero.
The First Emperor runs for a total of nine performances through January 25 — quite a commitment to a brand-new work from the ultimate establishment opera house. What's even more impressive for a contemporary opera is that the entire run is already sold out (except for standing room tickets). Thank goodness for the movies: the Saturday matinee performance of The First Emperor on January 13 is one of six this season that will be simulcast into selected cinemas in high definition video and audio.
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All photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.