‘The First Emperor,’ and a flutter of Chinese fans “in New York – Sheila Melvin
One of Beijing’s most anticipated events in this busy winter performing arts season did not even take place in China: the world premiere of Tan Dun’s “The First Emperor” at the New York Metropolitan Opera.
……”An enormous disappointment,” declared The New York Times of the score, adding that the vocal writing was “ill-conceived” and gave “soaring melody a bad name.” The New Yorker damned it all as “musical kitsch” Predictable comparisons to Puccini, whose Chinese-inspired “Turandot” is a standard of the Western opera repertoire, appeared in almost every review.
As the tide of negative, even nasty, reviews washed into Beijing, the excitement turned to confusion and consternation. The English language China Daily requested that Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times classical music critic “elaborate on his criticisms.” It then ran excerpts from his second, similarly unflattering evaluation of the opera alongside interviews with Tan Dun and other members of the creative team, concluding, “Whatever people say about this opera, it is a historical milestone in cultural coalescence.” ‘[Full Text]