Tan Dun: Marco Polo

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Marco Polo
PERFORMER: Thomas Young, Alexandra Montano Cappella Amsterdam, Netherlands Radio CO/Tan Dun
Unusually for today’s operas, Marco Polo has enjoyed several performances in other cities since its 1996 Munich premiere. This recording let’s you hear why; it’s a devastatingly powerful musical drama, the topic is mystically operatic and its score defies delineations between Eastern and Western soundscapes.


The physical journey of Marco Polo is evoked with dramatic gesture -danger at sea, disorientation in a bazaar, love intrigue in a desert- but his spiritual journey-past, present and future – is as important and grows through the seasonal cycle and questioning characters. The third and musical journey runs concurrently, recalling sounds of Italy and China via the Middle East, India, Tibet and Mongolia. It’s perfect Tan fare and musically bears his hallmarks: by utilising an extended orchestra including pipa, tabla, sitar and Tibetan horns and vocal techniques from Beijing.opera and beyond, he creates unique textures whether grand, intimate or ritualistic.


Within the seven-strong dedicated cast Alexandra Montano and (Marco, Thomas Young (Polo, his memory) excel in their split persons. Dong-Jian Gong makes for an imposing Kublai Khan and Susan Botti (Water) caresses with her silky soprano. From shrieks to hisses, Italianate arias or isolated consonances each deliver their demanding parts with prowess. Paul Griffiths’s libretto is multilingual, cut and spliced, but clear and succinct. Kate Sheriff