Asian Heritage Month 2017: Operas From Some Famous Asian Composers

By David Salazar

For centuries, the major opera houses of the world have regularly programmed operas from European composers with some offerings of North American and, in fewer cases, South American composers. But when was the last time, with the exception of Tan Dun’s “The Last Emperor,” you heard an opera from an Asian composer.

You probably haven’t. And it is a true shame because there are numerous offerings from some of Asian’s greatest composers. Here is just a small taste of what is out there.

Works of Toshiro Mayuzumi

The famed Japanese composer wrote two operas, including “The Golden Pavillion” which is based on the famous work by Yukio Mishima. The opera actually premiered in Berlin in 1976 and you can get a glimpse of it below.

He also composed “Kojiki” or “Days of the Gods,” which premiered in Linz in 1996.

Works of Isang Yun

The Korean-born composer spent a great deal of his later career in Germany, and all four of his operas have German titles. His first work was “Der Traum des Liu-Tung,” which premiered in 1965. That was followed by “Die Witwe des Schmetterlings” in 1967 and “Geisterliebe” in 1971. The final operatic work from the composer was “Sim Tjong,” which was written for the Olympics in Munich in 1972.

Works of Bright Sheng

The Chinese-American composer has written a number of works, but two particular operas stand out. Both “Madame Mao” and “The Silver River” premiered in Santa Fe, the former actually commissioned by Santa Fe Opera. “The Silver River,” which was composed in 1997, blends Western operatic traditions with Chinese ones to tell the story based on a 4,000-year-old Chinese folktale. The orchestration for this opera is particularly notable for the prominence of the Pipa.

Her other opera follows the story of Madame Mao, showcasing her character through two different periods in her life and with two distinct singers.

Works of Tan Dun

The Chinese composer has written five operas to date, his first, “Nine Songs” coming in 1989. Then came “Marco Polo” coming in 1995. That was followed by “Peony Pavilion” in 1998, and “Tea: A Mirror of Soul” in 2002. But the most notable of his works is “The First Emperor” which debuted in 2006 at the Metropolitan Opera with Plácido Domingo in the title role.

Some of his operas are unique because their orchestrations include materials such as paper, water, ceramic and stone.


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