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Setting a libretto by Paul Griffiths and labeled "an opera within an opera," Marco Polo takes a highly symbolic, multi-level, introspective approach to its subject, rather than attempting a literal representation. The protagonist himself is presented in two simultaneous aspects -- Marco, the physical, active side of the character, and Polo, the character's memory and intellectual self. Other characters include the element Water (who serves as something of a love interest for Polo), Kublai Kahn and three ghosts. The first ghost primarily appears as Rustichello, the scribe to whom the historical Marco Polo dictated his travels. He also represents the Chinese poet Li Po. Ghost 2 appears as Sheherazada, Gustav Mahler and the Empress of China. Ghost 3 manifests himself primarily as Dante but also as Shakespeare. Three simultaneous journeys are occurring in this opera -- a physical journey from Venice to China; a journey through musical styles of medieval Europe through the Middle East, India, the Himalayas and finally China; and a spiritual journey of self-discovery and of the three aspects of time (past, present and future).
As a person who began life in the Hunan district of China, survived the Cultural Revolution and has lived since the mid-1980s in New York City, Tan Dun acknowledges that his own experience of multiculturalism has added an autobiographical reference to Marco Polo. His training in the folk traditions of Chinese music, his work in the Peking Opera and his education in advanced Western classical music have all become internalized and melded into a style uniquely his own, embracing the music of many cultures.
Pierre Audi, who shows a deep understanding both of the opera itself and of his specific team, directs this colorful new production of Marco Polo with great flair. His vision is convincing and powerful. Special praise must go to designers Jean Kalman and Elsa Ejchenrand, whose sets and lighting make highly imaginative use of the entire stage.
The cast for this production is close to ideal. All the roles require singers with a command of an enormous vocal tessitura, and all the performers here make their music sound natural and effortless. A veteran performer in the Kunqu opera tradition (which predates Peking opera style), Zhang Jun as Ghost 1 has the most athletic requirements of all the performers. He is onstage for virtually the entire opera, often dancing as well as singing. Additionally, he serves as a narrator for the physical journey being enacted. His character can be said to be the soul of the opera. His performance is quite moving and charismatic. Charles Workman gives a compelling interpretation of Polo. His is an intensely emotional role to play, and Workman proves fully convincing in it. Sarah Castle does well in the more supporting role of Marco. As Water, Nancy Allen Lundy is enthralling. Tania Kross makes an enchanting Sheherazada, a believable Gustav Mahler and a warm-hearted Empress. Stephen Richardson is appropriately commanding as Kublai Kahn and most impressive near the end of the opera, when he finally gets an extended aria. As Ghost 3, Stephen Bryant, the only carryover from the earlier cast, shows a dazzling mastery of vocal techniques.
Marco Polo is one of Tan Dun's most inspired, successful and spectacular efforts. For those new to his artistry, this DVD would make a fabulous introduction. For those who already enjoy the composer's work, this release will be a benchmark for years to come. -- Opera News, Arlo McKinnon, October 2009
An eye-opener. Convincing integration of Eastern and Western music and a visual treat. Wonderful.Published 21 days ago by blumenberg
Marco Polo joins The Midsummer Marriage as an opera I really thought I would treasure, only to find that the music put me off from enjoying the fascinating story, intriguing... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Watson Rink