Tan Dun: Bitter Love

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Tan Dun
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Bitter Love
PERFORMER: Ying Huang (soprano), Linqiang Xu (tenor); Instrumentalists, New York Virtuoso Singers/Tan Dun
CATALOGUE NO: SK 61658
Having missed last year’s premiere run of The Peony Pavilion it’s difficult to measure the extent to which its musical make-up has been recreated to form Bitter Love, its half-length offshoot. But the 14 songs spin a passionate story leaving no tell-tale signs of something missing, and certainly embrace Tan’s description of Peony as ‘medieval chant meeting rock ’n’ roll meeting ancient Chinese kunju opera’. Bitter Love transcends any east meets west label; its language is international and communicates with compelling force on many levels.

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Soprano Ying Huang is involving as the beautiful rich girl who dreams of making love to a scholar and starves herself when she awakes to discover he doesn’t exist. She conveys her elegant melodies of swoops, swirls and fluttering trills with a compassionate fragility, yet draws on a velvety luxuriousness for more erotic moments. Her ghost is, afterall, lured into life during a sensual scene with Linqiang Xu, the aforementioned scholar.

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The sounds of a drum kit emerge and combine with those of traditional Chinese instruments, synthesizers and extended vocal techniques (resounding with theatrical virtuosity from Tan as aboriginal and the men from the New York Virtuoso Singers). It’s not surprising Tan creates terror and tranquility in such close proximity. Kate Sherriff