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The First Emperor Has No Clothes

Anthony Tommasini here.  Manuela Hoelterhoff here.  An Unamplified Voice here.  Maury D’annato here.  Jonathan at Wellsung.  AP here.


Comment from Steve Layton
Time: December 23, 2006, 7:40 pm

The Last Emperor is Bertolucci; this is the First Emperor. Easy way to remember: The Last Emperor, weak emperor, strong movie; The First Emperor, strong emperor, weak opera.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: December 23, 2006, 9:58 pm

Thanks, Steve. I did see the movie, too.

Comment from Carmen-Helena Téllez
Time: December 24, 2006, 4:05 pm

Greetings! I opened Sequenza21 intending to send a holiday salute to this wonderful site and the group of interlocutors that develop such thought-provoking conversations year-round–and I found the collection of reviews of The First Emperor. By now I am beginning to think that writing an opera is much like Turandot’s riddle. The composer who attempts to conquer this all-encompassing genre risks reputation and self-esteem, but still is very likely to fail and get his/her head cut off. It seems that we all can describe what makes an opera unsuccessful–but what makes an opera work? The formula appears most elusive. Nonetheless, composers writing opera, even when they fail, at least permit the survival of a genre that can potentailly comment and define our culture in a way that no other genre can. The effort, even when a failure, is still heroic.

In any case–Happy Holidays and creative 2007 to you all!


Comment from David Salvage
Time: December 24, 2006, 4:55 pm

Domingo naked? Ewww . . .

Comment from Frank J. Oteri
Time: December 28, 2006, 3:42 pm

Not everyone hated it, but as the folks who dominate talk radio have long known, the loudest, most negative voices are usually the ones who wound up getting heard. Has anyone reading and/or posting to this thread actually seen the production? I saw it on Tuesday night and was pretty taken with it, the Italianate vocalizations of Domingo and others notwithstanding.

As I just ranted on NewMusicBox, you are damned no matter what you do if you write a contemporary American opera, which ultimately tells us more about those doing the criticizing than what they purport to be criticizing. To ask teh same question here that I asked on NewMusicBox, If La traviata, Madama Butterfly, or Tristan und Isolde were brand new works receiving their premieres in New York City in 2006, how do you think they would be received by the media’s appointed arbiters of taste?

Comment from Anonymous
Time: December 28, 2006, 7:49 pm

The formula appears most elusive

Not really. There’s a good number of opera composers that write stageworthy, interesting works.

They just happen to be white Europeans, mostly male, often writing in non-Romantic styles. Heaven forbid the Met or other American companies ask them to write something, instead frauds like Osvaldo Goljiov or Philip Glass get commissions.

Has anyone reading and/or posting to this thread actually seen the production?

No, but I *heard* it, the first half hour or so of the Met’s streaming audio, and I turned it off. Life is too short to waste time like that. I put on Birtwistle’s The Second Mrs. Kong to erase the memory.

Comment from Elodie Lauten
Time: December 29, 2006, 1:00 pm

Did you notice on the Tommasini article – Tan Dun is being called ‘Mr. Tan’, which I find extremely entertaining, making him a new archetype of American iconography… the Charlie Chan of new music, so to speak?… was this intentional?

Comment from Frank J. Oteri
Time: December 29, 2006, 2:20 pm

Once again, the racist (“a good number of opera composers…write stageworthy, interesting works…just happen to be white Europeans, mostly male”) flamers (“frauds” etc.) need to post anonymously. Coward! At least be brave enough to identify yourself!

Lots of people of all genders and ethnicities (which obviously includes but is not limited to “white European males”) are writing “stageworthy interesting works” these days.

BTW, I would contend that if you only listened to 30 minutes of a 3 hour plus work, you didn’t hear it. In fact, if you only heard it once and were not actually there in person but instead were tuning in to a broadcast during which you coould have been doing numerous other activities, you didn’t even really hear the 30 minutes.


Comment from Elodie Lauten
Time: December 29, 2006, 2:58 pm

I am really glad I will not see The First Emperor until January 13… By then I’ll be able to enjoy it unbiased. It certainly is controversial already and the excitement around it with all the reviews and comments testifies to it being a powerful piece. It has already stirred questions about non-linear plots and non-linear melody. Certainly, a courageous statement just on principle.