Tan Dun: Marco Polo - An Opera Within an Opera [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français) [Import]
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Tan Dun conducts the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra in this Grammy-nominated performance of his own opera, based on legendary explorer Marco Polo's travels to Asia. The performance was recorded at the Het Musiektheater, Amsterdam in November 2008.
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The opera separates Marco Polo into two characters -- Marco is the external figure of the explorer sung by a mezzo-soprano, and Polo is his inner being including his memory sung by a tenor. They are united at the end of the Opera into one being. Other characters making appearances include Kublai Kahn, Dante, Shakespeare, Mahler and more. It makes for a symbolic/philosophical plot with many layers without strongly defined beginnings and ends.
Tan Dun, the composer, is more broadly known for the score of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, for which he won Academy and Grammy honors. His most recent opera “The First Emperor” debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 2006.
The music of Marco Polo is a symbiosis of Chinese and Western Classical music. It is highly symbolic and requires focus while listening. For western audiences, not familiar with Chinese music and opera, it requires some effort, but once the essence of each scene is understood the music makes sense and it becomes part of the whole. When you watch this opera for the second time, as I did, it becomes immensely more familiar, interesting, and easy to enjoy.
The staging is somewhat overdone; the customs distract from the music and the meaning of each scene, themselves becoming the center of attention, which I don’t think is the purpose of the opera.
This opera is for explorers - those willing to learn and experience something different. I certainly enjoyed the experience.
All of which means that it presents a real challenge. It seems to be linear but it is not. It does away with our notions of time and space, moving as if it were an extended dream sequence.. In fact, it requires immersion. I must say that Dun moved away from this first period to simpler stories (Tea) and stronger music (The Last Emperor). IN this prodction two singers shine: Nancy Allen Lundy and the truly phenomenal Zhan Jun in a role which requires him to sing, dance and do acrobatics, and keeps him onstage the whole time. Magnificent production by Dun veteran, Pierre Audi. I love it.
Occasionally the music would veer back into something I could assimilate (quasi-Britten, for instance) only to begin pointless screeching. Particularly from the Jerry Lewis character from the Peking Opera.
I confess that my best watchings of this opera were with the sound turned off, especially in 3x rewind. The strange but intriguing juxtaposition of piazza, desert, Himalayas and Great Wall, illuminated by the costumes, lighting and actors' movements, were a fascinating experience.
I suppose there's no accounting for tastes in music: but as someone who's been excited by recent operas by composers like Ades and Birtwhistle, I have to confess that too much of Tan Dun's score just irritated me.
(BTW, substantially the same impression of The First Emperor: amazing settings and movements, wonderful characterizations by the singers, but too much of the music left me flat (though much of it caught me better than Marco Polo).
Hence a three-star judgment for me; but if you like Tan Dun's music, then this is an experience not to be missed
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