Right after seeing the recent production of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice, I had the urge to race to the nearest library and read everything I could find on the composer, Christoph Willibald von Gluck, and his masterpiece. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe sang beautifully as Orfeo, or Orpheus – a most exquisite, indelible “trouser role” performance that might have caused the audience to experience palpitations at moments! Dances choreographed by the famed Choreographer Mark Morris delightfully accompanied the mellifluous music. Probably because I was so moved by the production, I started researching other topics that might be linked to operas, such as “fuchsia and opera” or “Lolita and opera”. To my surprise, a “tea” opera had already been written and staged.
Tea: a Mirror of Soul, commissioned by Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan and premiered in 2002, is the work of the Chinese Composer Tan Dun, who is best known for his score for the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Some of you might have seen the PBS broadcast of his other opera, The First Emperor, with Plácido Domingo singing the title role, at the Metropolitan Opera. Not surprisingly, when the curtain rises for Tea: a Mirror of Soul, a tea ceremony is in progress. While drinking tea from an empty bowl poured from an empty tea pot – symbolizing enduring emptiness perhaps – Japanese Monk Seikyo reminisces about his encounter with the love of his life, the Chinese Princess Lan, and their quest for the Book of Tea, penned by the Tea Sage LuYu. They eventually obtain the book from LuYu’s daughter, Lu, and promise to share the “tea” wisdom with the world. Unfortunately and somewhat predictably, Princess Lan is fatally wounded by her own brother during his duel with Seikyo over the Book of Tea.
Tea: a Mirror of Soul premiered in North America at Santa Fe Opera in 2007. Merely an opera aficionado, not an opera doyen, I am yet to find a contemporary opera that touches me like Orfeo ed Euridice or The Coronation of Poppea. And after seeing the tea ceremony scene on You Tube, I will not comment further on Tea: a Mirror of Soul. Perhaps I’ll do some more research on tea in classical operas.