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The First Emperor
Composer:Tan Dun
Librettist:Ha JinTan Dun
Act One: Shadow
Standing in front of the closed curtain, the Yin-Yang master invites the audience to witness a two-thousand-year old story of love, betrayal and madness.

Act I, Scene 1:
The Emperor and his entourage are watching the Shaman lead a ritual performance. His daughter, Yue-yang, is in a sedan, her legs paralyzed from a riding accident. She is betrothed to General Wang. The Emperor interrupts the ritual as he finds the music empty. The Emperor wants an Anthem to unify the land and orders Wang to change the war plans so that he can find the musician Gao Jian Li. The Emperor tells about Jian Li, his childhood friend and master musician.

Act I, Scene 2: In the Chin Palace
The Emperor and his Chief Minister are discussing ways to unify the empire. Wang enters and delivers the captured Jian Li. The Emperor welcomes Jian Li as his brother but Jian Li despises him for his brutality. The Emperor orders him to write the Anthem but Jian Li refuses, preferring to die.

Act I, Scene 3: Yue-yang is attending Jian Li who is fasting to death. When left alone she seduces him. The startled Jian Li responds and they make love. She then realizes that she has regained the use of her paralyzed limbs. The Emperor enters with his retinue. He is at first ecstatic but then they all realize how the miracle happened.

Act Two: Anthem

Act II, Scene 1:
At a construction site of the Great Wall, slaves are laboring under threat of whips. In the foreground, Jian Li, now healthy and happily in love, is giving a music lesson to Yue-yang. Jian Li stops to listen to the Shaman's singing and then to the slaves' chorus and is clearly touched by their songs. The Emperor arrives to force Yue-yang to marry the General and she storms away. The Emperor convinces Jian Li to wait for Wang to die in battle. In the mean time Jian Li must compose the Anthem.

Act II, Scene 2:
The throne is at the top of a pyramid of steps. Jian Li, the newly-appointed Chief Minister, announces the beginning of the ceremony. The Anthem is to be played only when the Emperor reaches the throne. The Emperor begins to climb the steps and stops, the ghost of Yue-yang tells of her suicide. After climbing further he is stopped again, Wang's ghost tells him that Jian Li poisoned him, and still seeks vengeance. As the Emperor climbs higher, Jian Li lunges at him, grief-stricken and crazed. The Emperor asks Jian Li to call him Elder Brother. Jian Li does so then bites off his tongue. Realizing his death will be slow and painful, the Emperor stabs Jian Li. When the Emperor reaches the throne he asks that the Anthem begin. It is the slaves' song and the Emperor realizes this is the Jian Li’s revenge.

Courtesy of G. Schirmer

Click company name to view productions details.
Metropolitan OperaThe First Emperor5/5/2008 - 5/17/2008
Metropolitan OperaThe First Emperor1/1/2007 - 12/28/2006

Title Information

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Approximate Runtime (hh:mm)

Number of Acts

Original Cast
Plácido Domingo (Emperor Qin)
Elizabeth Futral (Princess Yueyang, Emperor Qin's daughter)
Paul Groves (Gao Jianli, musician)
Hao Jiang Tian (General Wang Bi)
Michelle DeYoung (Shaman)
Haijing Fu (Chief Minister)
Wu Hsing-Kuo (Yin-Yang Master, official geomancer)
Susanne Mentzer (Mother of Yueyang)

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