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TEA: Tan Dun’s Opera: Beauty is Transparent

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TEA: A Mirror of the Soul
Composed by Tan Dun; Text by Xu Ying
Opera Company of Philadelphia
Academy of Music
Feb 19 – 28, 2010

Tan Dun’s Tea: A Mirror of the Soul is a love story and a quest for knowledge. A man of the East is defeated by his Western-style quest. The Opera Company of Philadelphia’s staging of the East Coast premiere was conducted by the composer himself recently with the final performances at the Academy of Music by David Hayes. The composer’s been fiddling with his opera and it’s lost some of its subtleties. The Philadelphia cast is mostly excellent and the music is both aural and a visual delight. Onstage percussionists play their noisemakers by dipping their hands in and out of water bowls – like arm dancers.
Baritone Haijing Fu sings the disappointed lover, a man of steely will. Soprano Kelly Kaduce gives a sympathetic portrayal of the princess torn between the man she wants to marry and the prince who is her brother. Roger Hollaway’s portrayal of the incestuous brother was so camp opening night it was difficult to take him seriously. Antler headgear and postures added a Wagnerian jolt to the high notes the tenor did hit well.
There’s a splendor to sounds of water and the uses of paper for percussive effects – though there may be too much paper in Tea. The sound effects (all digitally enhanced) and Drew Billau’s dramatic lighting are almost sufficient for an opera that suggests meditation but moves into a mish mash of theatrics that could be Turandot when it’s not aiming for The Ring. Tan Dun’s spare vocal lines do not support such representation especially in the second act when lover and over loving brother battle for the Book of Tea. The result veers on sentimental mush. Tan Dun tries too hard to make an opera from East and West. His music already has the West built in: the modal scale he uses is no more innovative than Ravel: for all their novelty, his orchestrations beautiful as they are do not venture far afield. Director Amon Miyamoto’s staging pushes Tan Dun’s Tea toward Broadway with more color than need be. The beauty of tea is transparency.

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Written by Lesley Valdes

February 25, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Posted in 1, Broadway, Opera

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