Saturday, June 03, 2006

Tan Dun: A Shaman of Music Making

Tan Dun, who is known throughout the world for his film music (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) has been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to compose The First Emperor. The opera will premiere December 21 with Placido Domingo in the title role. It will be conducted by Tan Dun, who also wrote the libretto along with the noted novelist Ha Jin, whose first full-length novel, Waiting is the winner of the 1999 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The opera will be directed by the celebrated film director Zhang Yimou, confirming Tan Dun's vision that cinema is the opera of our time.

Tan Dun has always approached his projects with fanatic energy and inspiration that fashions new forms and structures challenging the premises and fabric of the past. His "out of town try-out" took place about a month ago in Shanghai, and it was clear from the outset that Tan Dun had brought a new voice to the Metropolitan Opera:
The run-through began with pulsating drums. Singing in the style of Beijing opera, an ‘official geomancer’ introduced the story of Qin Shi Huangdi, the visionary and brutal warlord who unified China in 221 B.C …the music rose from the orchestra, alternately heroic, lyrical and haunting. Voices wove through the gongs, the bass flute and the plucked strings of ancient instruments as well as the orchestra’s standard violins and cellos, woodwinds and brasses.
--Sunday New York Times, May 14, 2006
Tan Dun is a shaman of music, where sound, text, visual art, video, and movement merge as a single entity, a magical and mystical expression that transforms time and space. Opera is the most extreme form of artistic collaboration --- the essence of art comes from opera, and such opera is the crystallization of life itself. Tan Dun delves into the spiritual realm of creation, penetrating and connecting many seemingly disparate realities into a new holistic and inspiring vision. He has a way of defining, connecting, and mapping the world that suggests a new paradigm for the 21st Century.

The Grand Opera of the 19th Century dominated the 20th Century, and premieres of contemporary works at the Met were often pale replicas of the past. Tan Dun is proposing a new direction, one in which the content of antiquity fuses with the dynamics of contemporary cross-cultural life. What may emerge anticipates the longing of our time for an authentic voice that assembles the unfolding worlds of East, West, North, and South, in cataclysmic collisions that tear off and shape chunks of past remote worlds into new spheres of influence and expression, much as the moon was created from the earth in a catastrophic episode with a rogue planet.

Tan Dun, as the rogue shaman who has infiltrated the establishment, may have the magic touch of an alchemist, transforming the wornout relics of the past into pure gold.

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