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16 Aug 2007
A Cloudy Mirror
“Tea: Mirror of the Soul” with book by Xu Ying and music by Tan Dun, revised from an earlier version first produced in Japan in 2002, was to have been the novelty of the present Santa Fe Opera season. Instead, it was dead on arrival.
The story is a triangle — a boy, a girl and a book. The book wins. The
play is written in prosaic language with no emotional charge, and the action
is minimal even mundane — though it aspires to be lofty and metaphysical.
The characters search throughout Japan and China for the Book of
Tea, or is it their soul they seek? Or is it the book of life? We never
find out. They fail. We don’t care. The bowls of tea were empty (that was
part of the action; I am serious).
All this might have been made to jell with an interesting vital score, one
with lyric sweep and emotional power. Of these qualities there was none. The
score was sound-effects music punctuated by moments of Kismet and Sigmund
Romberg kitsch — it was entirely trivial. The performers were just fine,
and the stage setting and costumes colorful and attractive. The Santa Fe
Opera Orchestra, which has been improving over recent years, sounded splendid
in the awkward fusion of Asian-Western musical styles, and the busy musical
traffic director was Netherlands opera conductor Lawrence Renes, obviously an
admirable leader, who had conducted this score in Europe. Stage director was
Amon Miyamoto. The capable singers were: Nancy Maultsby, Haijing Fu, Kelly
Kaduce, Roger Honeywell and Christian van Horn. Design was by Rumi Matsui,
Masatomo Ora and Rick Fishier.
The fault lay in the conception and the content, not in the execution;
production excellence could not save the day. At $170. for an orchestra seat,
one might have expected better. The audience response was properly
restrained. The joke around Santa Fe was to call the Tan Dun, “a night of
Chinese water torture.” Wish I had thought of that.
J. A. Van Sant © 2007