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Performed only seven times in the decade since it premiered in Tokyo, Tea: A Mirror of Soul makes its Canadian debut as the VO season closer this month. The work by Tan Dun (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) sets a Chinese-Japenese story a score written for Western voices and orchestra. Audiences can settle easily into his comfortable (read: European) phrasing, but Chinese tones weave through almost imperceptibly. Percussive tricks using stones, paper (look for floor-to-ceiling sheets “hammered” by on-stage percussionists), water (dripped into the ethereal water-phone he conceived), and even vocal utterances from the orchestra add to the sensory miscellany. VO music director Jonathan Darlington, who conducts, calls the music “unmistakably Tan Dun.” Then there’s the story. Tea concerns a Japanese prince (Chen-Ye Yuan, from 2010’s Nixon in China) and a Chinese princess (Nancy Allen Lundy) whose quest for love and wisdom is foiled by a greedy brother and ends with the prince taking a monk’s vow, and the princess…well, it is opera.
Note to readers: the original version of this article stated that the opera had a Chinese-language libretto. This was an error. The libretto performed in Vancouver was English.