Tan Dun's 2006 opera The First Emperor dramatically transgresses stylistic, cultural, genre, and aesthetic boundaries and prompts investigation of critical methods and categories. This opera's multiplicity and engagement with the operatic past brings into focus relationships between Chinese, European, and experimental American operatic traditions and Romantic, modernist, and postmodernist modes of Orientalist representation. Powers's study of Puccini's manipulation of multiple styles in Turandot is a model for tracing Tan's stylistic sources and exploring their interaction in The First Emperor. Tan's use of conventions from the Orientalist operatic tradition and treatment of thematic material indicates an attempt to accommodate audience expectations. Other recent operas influenced by Chinese operatic traditions and the recent reception of Chinese opera in the West likely shaped Tan's composition and offer useful contextual and comparative perspectives. The critical reception and revision of this high-profile opera raise issues central to the creation of contemporary opera.
- ©© 2009 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.