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Tan Dun: The First Emperor (The Metropolitan Opera HD Live Series) (2008)

Placido Domingo , Elizabeth Futral , Zhang Yimou , Brian Large  |  NR |  DVD
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Placido Domingo, Elizabeth Futral, Michelle DeYoung, Paul Groves, Hao Jiang Tian
  • Directors: Zhang Yimou, Brian Large
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: EMI Classics
  • DVD Release Date: September 16, 2008
  • Run Time: 176 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001D6OKVK
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,372 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Tan Dun: The First Emperor (The Metropolitan Opera HD Live Series)" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

The First Emperor is one of those spectacular MET stagings, bursting with colorful costumes and striking sets in noted film director Zhang Yimou’s production. It’s been billed as a "global opera" in its mixture of traditional Chinese and Western music written by Tan Dun, who has successfully bridged the two in his compositions, perhaps most effectively in his film music. The opera’s based on supposed incidents in the life of Qin Shi Huang, whose military conquests unified China in 221 BC. He’s credited with building a centralized state, constructing the Great Wall, codifying the laws, and standardizing weights and measures. His efficiency also extended to ruthlessly suppressing dissent and murdering scholars, which could indicate a subtext that makes him a stand-in for Mao Zedong. The libretto, by the composer and Ha Jin, largely conforms to Western epic opera traditions, revolving around the tribulations of an ambitious power-seeker, his daughter’s love for the composer Jianli, and the Emperor’s desire for her to marry a general for political reasons. The bloody ending involves the death of the three members of the love triangle and the Emperor’s ascension to the throne where he hears the anthem composed for the occasion by Jianli, which turns out to be the song of the slaves building the Great Wall.

The opera opens with a promising scene based on traditional Chinese music and employing traditional instruments to great effect. A narrator, the Yin-Yang Master, sensationally done by the Peking Opera performer Wu Hsing-Kuo, outlines the story we are about to see in a striking mixture of singing, dancing, and acrobatics against a backdrop of Chinese drummers and a chorus. After that, the principals enter and the music becomes predominately western with the Chinese instruments relegated to marginal exotica. The singers are forced to struggle with a libretto that seems unsingable, words resisting the melodies to which they’re set. Set piece arias are predominately slow, accentuating the static effect of the staging in most of the scenes. As the Emperor, Placido Domingo, more baritonal than usual, often sounds strained but retains his stage presence. As his daughter, soprano Elizbeth Futral sings very well indeed, especially given the ungrateful material she’s given. Tenor Paul Graves sings her lover, the composer Jianli. He’s perhaps the most effective cast member, singing with color and firm tone. His rival for the princess, General Wang, is well sung by Hao Jiang Tian, and the excellent mezzo, Michelle DeYoung is a suitably scary Shaman, costumed like a Halloween witch, super-long fingernails to the fore. Tan Dun conducts the MET orchestra, whose music is fairly tepid when the assisting Chinese instruments fall silent. The enthusiastic reception of the audience at the end of this 2007 performance suggests that the opera, or at least the production, is a crowd pleaser. Home theatre audiences will welcome the blaze of colors and innovative production details, in a contemporary opera featuring some fine singers. --Dan Davis

The First Emperor is an all-regions disc in 16:9 ratio. Sound options include PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1 Surround. Sung in English, subtitles include English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Extras include a brief introduction by Zhang Ziyi, a Beverly Sills interview of Placido Domingo, and a 20-minute rehearsal film.

Product Description

The Metropolitan Opera's acclaimed Live in High-Definition series, which projects live performances into theaters across the globe, has met with unprecedented critical and commercial success and has made opera convenient and affordable to millions of viewers worldwide. Now, EMI Classics is proud to collaborate with The Met to release 6 new DVDs made from these broadcast performances.

Legendary tenor Plácido Domingo leads an all-star cast in this visually stunning opera by Academy Award-winning composer Tan Dun (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). Commissioned by The Met in the mid-1990s, this spectacular new production was one of the most highly-anticipated cultural events of the 2006-07 Metropolitan Opera season, combining the expressive power of traditional ancient Chinese singing with the long musical lines of Italian Opera. Conducted by Tan Dun himself, with revered Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou (Hero, Raise the Red Lantern) directing and Oscar-winner Emi Wada designing the costumes. A remarkable performance!

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't listen to the critics October 22, 2008
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Critics have been very harsh on this new opera. This has happened before; composers have been misunderstood or not-understood at all by critics, while the public loved them. Seems too early to dismiss "The First Emperor". I have seen it many times and every time I discover something new. The DVD is much better than the live broadcast I saw in the theater, the image is much brighter.

The opera is full of symbols. I am sure I don't even understand them all yet. Although the obvious theme is about the anthem, seems that the suffering of the builders of the Great Wall is a much more profound one. The wall is built to protect against the barbarians, while behaving in a barbaric way. Is this opera a critic to Mao (and/or others)?

The music is different, interesting and enjoyable. The singers are first quality and the Chinese performers very interesting. This production is the first one. May be it is not perfect, or it could have been done differently. I will leave that judgment for the future, when new performances are produced. Seems to me that a film production could be interesting, (like Chaudet's film of Stravinsky's "Le Rossignol").

I strongly recommend this DVD to those interested in the new world, not only of Opera, but the global village and China's cultural integration with the world in particular.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An ambitious and highly underrated opera September 23, 2009
By P. Jan
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Tan Dun's "The First Emperor" is an incredible opera that expertly fuses Western and Eastern music in a way that is extremely interesting to my ears. Fans of Tan Dun's film scores to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Hero" will likely enjoy this opera, which retains Tan Dun's style while going far beyond the restrictions of having to serve a film. The performances are excellent and the orchestra, conducted by Tan Dun himself, has a raw energy that is captivating to my eyes. The production quality of "The First Emperor" is top-notch as well, as to be expected from the Metropolitan Opera and is captured very well on this DVD, which has excellent video quality (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen), excellent sound, and subtitles in a number of languages including English. I hope that this opera will someday be released on Blu-Ray as well given that the source was recorded in high-definition video.

There has been a large amount of harsh criticism of "The First Emperor" and while I concede that I do not have the opera experience or musical knowledge that I assume these experts have, I have to say that I would have been more open to these criticisms if it did not feel like the vast majority of the complaints were either based in ignorance or a blind reverence of past operas. For example, many have described the music as being "unlistenable," but to me it feels like this majority of these criticism comes from critics who are completely ignorant to and unfamiliar with non-Western musical styles rather than any constructive criticism. Accusations that the plot of the opera is silly and ridiculous also strike me as ignorant given the equally ludicrous plots and twists that seem to occur in just about every single opera I have heard or watched.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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To listen to this from a purely instrumental standpoint... this composition was nothing short of phenomenal. It is the apotheosis of a mixture of eastern and western instruments. The music may confuse many people as most people... and apparently many of them include the critics... do not know or understand theory and meaning in Chinese music. It is important to remember in Chinese music: the emphasis is not the tone but rather the meaning behind the tones and what they represent. Though in the western world we have a high emphasis on dissonances resolving which is our own tradition, but in this when hearing a dissonance we must listen to it as if it in itself were a tone and has its own meaning.

Tan Dun's innovative percussion writing was also spectacular. Dun is actually already quite well known for his percussion skills - you can search for his Youtube Symphony with the London Symphony orchestra and you'll see car rims and hubcaps incorperated into the score. It may look or seem ridiculous, but when you hear it you'll be amazed at how well it works.

The instrumentation in The First Emperor is very balanced between the classical European instruments and traditional Chinese instruments. Equally so there is also an amazing balance between European style singing and Chinese style - a narrator introduces the opera who he himself is a traditional Chinese Opera singer (the very talented Wu Hsing-Kuo). This introduction will give the audience quite a start and a lot to expect - this is as traditional Chinese as you can get. If it sounds odd - then I'm afraid you're SOL - as this is very accurate to tradition including his elegant costume, bright face paint, contorting dance moves, spoken text, and what many would consider strange and awkward sounds and shouts.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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This work is superb, it is the best new work written in many years. Domingo sings and acts the role of the Emperor beautifully, his voice has deepened and darkened and the role is perfect for him. The staging is imaginative and very effective. The costumes are wonderful. It has been a long time since I have seen a new work I have enjoyed as much as this one.

Now I want to quote my husband who played flute for 25 years in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

"The performance is wonderful, great singers, marvelous costumes, wonderful musicians, and stage presentation is really amazing! After all this, I can remember playing so many 'first performances' and lamenting that I didn't study (flute) to play this garbage, or semi-OK pieces. The performance combines Chinese and Western music. One of the leads is actually from the Chinese Opera and sings in Chinese, although the rest of the work is done in English.

The idiom is unfamiliar to me, but strangely haunting, the overall effect is stunning! The soundtrack for movie, Crouching Tiger - Hidden Dragon might be familiar. Well, this is much deeper and well worth the trouble to find a chance to know the work!

Modern music is worth listening to, if you are careful selecting it!!"

We feel Tan Dun is truly one of the great composers of our day!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
I usually write my reviews as a mere viewer/listener, but this time, after watching it, I decided to read critics' reviews first. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Alfredo R. Villanueva
5.0 out of 5 stars The First Emperor is an amazing work
The juxtaposition of Eastern and Western music under the pen and baton of Tan Dun is thrilling. Performances by orchestra, soloists and massive choir in the context of a moving... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Judy Ricker
2.0 out of 5 stars A lousy synthesis.
The production was a very ambitious one, and the composer Mr. Tan did made a solid groundwork in research of music in China in the area where the old kingdom of Qin situated. Read more
Published 7 months ago by An Chloe
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant entertainment.
Opera is possibly the most expensive form of theatrical entertainment requiring gifted singers, musicians, sets, and costumes, but when it all comes together and delivers there is... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Eunice
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing production
Saw this live at the premiere and wanted to revisit it. Don't expect 'melody' to abound but it is a marvelous marriage of Asian and European musical styles. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Jazz
1.0 out of 5 stars Not my taste
I will buy this DVD one day when I can buy it cheaply simply because we decided to collect all the Domingo DVD's. Read more
Published on January 30, 2011 by ZS
1.0 out of 5 stars disappointed

Published on March 28, 2010 by R. Brodsky
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, Fabulous ion every way!
Those who dislike this opera must hate Turandot. This is indeed a grand opera, filled with beautiful music, underscored by incredibly subtle whispers from violins, cellos, the... Read more
Published on March 11, 2010 by Daniel G. Madigan
3.0 out of 5 stars Spectacle lacking substance
Viewing the First Emperor is like going to a lavish restaurant where the food does not live up to the decor and service. Read more
Published on June 4, 2009 by harmless drudge
5.0 out of 5 stars Tan Dun - First Emperor is first rate!
This is a great way to introduce Opera to the fearful. Watch it and see for yourself...East meets West.
Published on April 26, 2009 by Faro
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