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Tan Dun

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The First Emperor (2006)
Work Notes
Performance restrictions apply. Please contact us for additional information.
Text Writer
Ha Jin and Tan Dun
Publisher
G Schirmer Inc
Category
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
2006
Duration
2 Hours 35 Minutes
Language
English


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   Libretto

Programme Note
Tan Dun The First Emperor (2006)


Explore the Metropolitan Opera's detailed Portal about the opera
THE FIRST EMPEROR

Opera in two acts

Music by Tan Dun
Libretto by Ha Jin and Tan Dun

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Cast List:
   EMPEROR CHIN: Tenor
   PRINCESS YUE-YANG, Emperor's daughter: Soprano
   GAO JIAN LI, musician: Lyric Tenor
   GENERAL WANG: Bass
   SHAMAN: Mezzo-soprano
   CHIEF MINISTER: Baritone
   YIN-YANG MASTER, official geomancer: Peking Opera Singer
   MOTHER OF YUE-YANG: Mezzo-soprano

   CHORUS: soldiers, slaves, guards, etc.
   DANCERS
   ANCIENT RITUAL INSTRUMENTS: ceramics, stones, zheng, giant bell, and drums (on stage)
   ORCHESTRA (in orchestra pit)

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
More than 2,300 years ago, China was divided into seven warring states. Among them the state of Chin was the strongest and eventually conquered its six rivals. After Chin Shi Huang unified the country, he established the first central government, calling himself the First Emperor. To strengthen central rule, he standardized the written word, currency, measurements, and roads. He also initiated many building projects, among which were the Great Wall and his tomb guarded by the terra-cotta soldiers. But behind those imperial achievements, there was a tragic story of love, hate, and betrayal.
 
Based on Historical Records, by Sima Qian (c.145 BC — c.85 BC)
and on the screenplay, The Legend of the Bloody Zheng, by Lu Wei

Synopsis

Act One: Shadow
Standing in front of the closed curtain, the Yin-Yang master invites the audience to witness a two-thousand-year-old story of love, betrayal, and madness.

Act I, Scene 1
The Emperor and his entourage are watching the Shaman lead a ritual performance. His daughter, Yue-yang, is in a sedan, her legs paralyzed from a riding accident. She is betrothed to General Wang. The Emperor interrupts the ritual as he finds the music empty. The Emperor wants an Anthem to unify the land and orders Wang to change the war plans so that he can find the musician Gao Jian Li. The Emperor tells about Jian Li, his childhood friend and master musician.

Act I, Scene 2 In the Chin Palace
The Emperor and his Chief Minister are discussing ways to unify the empire. Wang enters and delivers the captured Jian Li. The Emperor welcomes Jian Li as his brother but Jian Li despises him for his brutality. The Emperor orders him to write the Anthem but Jian Li refuses, preferring to die.

Act I, Scene 3
Yue-yang is attending Jian Li who is fasting to death. When left alone she seduces him. The startled Jian Li responds and they make love. She then realizes that she has regained the use of her paralyzed limbs. The Emperor enters with his retinue. He is at first ecstatic, but then they all realize how the miracle happened.

Act Two: Anthem
Act II, Scene 1
At a construction site of the Great Wall, slaves are laboring under threat of whips. In the foreground, Jian Li, now healthy and happily in love, is giving a music lesson to Yue-yang. Jian Li stops to listen to the Shaman's singing and then to the slaves' chorus and is clearly touched by their songs. The Emperor arrives to force Yue-yang to marry the General and she storms away. The Emperor convinces Jian Li to wait for Wang to die in battle. In the mean time Jian Li must compose the Anthem.

Act II, Scene 2
The throne is at the top of a pyramid of steps. Jian Li, the newly-appointed Chief Minister, announces the beginning of the ceremony. The Anthem is to be played only when the Emperor reaches the throne. The Emperor begins to climb the steps and stops, the ghost of Yue-yang tells of her suicide. After climbing further he is stopped again, Wang's ghost tells him that Jian Li poisoned him, and still seeks vengeance. As the Emperor climbs higher, Jian Li lunges at him, grief-stricken and crazed. The Emperor asks Jian Li to call him Elder Brother. Jian Li does so then bites off his tongue. Realizing his death will be slow and painful, the Emperor stabs Jian Li. When the Emperor reaches the throne he asks that the Anthem begin. It is the slaves' song, and the Emperor realizes this is the Jian Li’s revenge.



Performances
Date
Title
  • 06 SEP 2008
    The First Emperor European Premiere
    Saarbrücken, Germany
    Saarländisches Staatstheater
    Daniel Krief, director and designer; Constantin Trinks, conductor

    Other Dates:
    16,25 September; 4,11,31 October; 16,26 November - Saarbrücken, Germany
  • 21 DEC 2006
    The First Emperor World Premiere
    New York, NY
    Metropolitan Opera
    Tan Dun, conductor

    Other Dates:
    26,29 December; 5,9,13,22,25 January 2007 - New York, NY
    2 January 2007 - New York, NY
  • Metropolitan Opera
    Tan Dun, conductor

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