When Opera The First Emperor created by Chinese-American composer Tan Dun gave its seventh performance at the Metropolitan Opera Saturday, it was enjoyed live by a global audience of nearly 30,000 people in their hometown movie theaters in North America, Europe and Japan.
"Sometimes I have to remind myself it's a live," said Carol Kelly, a software engineer, who enjoyed the opera with her husband at the Union Square Theater in downtown Manhattan.
"It's fantastic. The opera looks so close and we can see the details -- the minute movements on the stage, the conductor and the orchestra, the rehearsals and the interviews with singers. I love it," she told Xinhua.
Marcey Cahan, a retired accountant, spent 18 dollars for her ticket to see the opera at the theater. Last time, she spent 65 dollars at the Met.
Cahan and her friend Elaine Stephens booked their tickets online after they learned that even singers of the opera could not get tickets for their family.
"It's worth the money," she said. "Everything looks close. Usually when we go to see an opera, we'll bring binoculars. And also the sound effect is great."
New Technology made it all possible.
"This is an historic moment for us," said Peter Gelb, the Met's General Manager. "We are harnessing digital technology to make the spectacle of live grand opera more broadly available. It's part of the Met's new efforts to propel opera back into the mainstream."
Inside the Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater, 10 high-definition cameras were situated in various positions, including backstage, capturing the spectacle of the live performances and the behind-the-scenes action, including live dressing room interviews.
Utilizing Dolby surround-sound, the high-definition images were transmitted into 150 digitally equipped movie theaters via five signals routed through four satellites, rivaling the logistics of a major sporting event broadcast.
Talking about his own work, composer and conductor Tan Dun said: "I wonder if I had a dream or a dream had me. Everything is a dream. I dream of music without boundary and boundary is crossed."
Tan has been the first composer who conducted his own work at the Met in 65 years, and the fifth in Met's history of over 100 years.
"This opera is modern, contemporary, and mixed with my old memories," he said.
The English-language production of The First Emperor dates back to 1996 when Met Music Director James Levine first approached Tan with the idea of a Met commission. The story was suggested by the composer's wife, producer Jane Huang, who found the themes of love, power and betrayal perfectly suited for operatic treatment.
Once he settled on the story, Tan traveled to Xi'an, the capital of Emperor Qin's realm, to perform a kind of musical anthropology. He learned about the ceramic instruments that were used during the Qin dynasty, and discovered that the music of the era relied largely on chanting and ritualistic body movements.
He also went to Xi'an on a hunt for qinqiang, an ancient Chinese vocal style that originated during the Qin Dynasty. But he chose not to use any of the folk melodies he heard. "I want these melodies to be singable by a typical opera singer, but also to expand them." What he did take from qinqiang were musical motifs.
He discovered that the qinqiang vocal style employs three distinctive formal structures: the tri-tone interval, the continuance of a fourth, and the practice of starting with highest note and descending to the lowest -- the opposite of Western opera's climactic high note at the end of an aria.
"Most musicologists describe what I'm doing as mixing Western music and Eastern music," explained the Chinese-born, New York-based composer, who has music degrees from both the Central Conservatory in Beijing and Columbia University.
"These two together I see as the equation '1 + 1 = 1.' You need to figure out technically where the sounds came from and how they meet naturally and become a new thing, a new language."
Tan's musical vocabulary seeks to bring together dualistic elements: East/West, classical/nonclassical, avant-garde/indigenous, old/new.
The story of the opera, based on incidents from the life of Qin Shi Huang (260 BC-210 BC), who unified China through the brutal conquest of other states and became the country's first emperor, is psychologically complex.
The work tells the story of the emperor's search for an anthem that will glorify the newly united nation and express the full magnitude of his vision for the empire. He turns to his childhood friend Gao Jianli to write a song for his country. The composer Gao falls in love with the princess, enraging an army general who is betrothed to her.
Zhang Yimou, the Chinese director of this production, best known for his popular films -- Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004) -- also adds luster to the project.
"Even though we are working on a traditional opera stage, we want to bring freshness, a new level of energy, and a very dynamic visual component with color and movement to the production," Zhang said.
World famous tenor Placido Domingo, who sang eight "China"s in Chinese in the second scene, said: "We have a powerful libretto, and with the fact that Tan Dun adds so many Chinese-style instruments and so much color in the orchestration, I think the public is going to have a great, great party."