Archives for category: Marco Polo

In May 2013 Bergen National Opera and Bergen Festival are presenting Tan Dun’s extraordinary ‘opera within an opera’
Marco Polo, in a performance with film and live projection, conducted by Baldur Brönnimann, directed and designed by Netia Jones. Here, we map the creative journey towards the design of the performances, and the exploration and discovery in the preparation of the production.

“I have not told one half of what I saw”
Marco Polo

all images by Netia Jones
all titles from the text of the opera ‘Marco Polo’;
music by Tan Dun, libretto by Paul Griffiths


Office building, Bergen

“There are three layers of journey in the opera…the geographic journey from West to East… the music journey from West to desert to India to Tibet to Mongolia to China… and the spiritual journey”
Tan Dun


Steelyard, Bergen


Chain by the Hanseatic wharf in Bergen

“And I suppose we felt we might as well learn to cope with a degree of discomfort at the outset. After all, this was going to be a long jaunt.”
Myself and Marco Polo, a Novel, by Paul Griffiths


Ship at Bergen docks


“To me, opera is ancient cinema, and of course the cinema is future opera”
Tan Dun


Tree shadows, Beijing


Models for prop baggages and packages


“And it seemed that everything was well, as often it will at the beginning of the day, in the dawn, before the light turns up the noise of our aloneness.”
Myself and Marco Polo, a novel, Paul Griffiths


Wall painting, Forbidden City, 2013



Ancient observatory, Beijing

“Do you imagine,” I said, ” that our readers will expect the truth? Or will they look rather for plausibility?”

‘Myself and Marco Polo’ Paul Griffiths



I Ching, The Classic of Changes; the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change.


Fabric design for the character ‘Water’

“Celadon is a term for ceramics denoting both a type of glaze and a ware of celadon (colour). This type of ware was invented in ancient China. Celadon glaze refers to a family of transparent glazes, many with pronounced cracks in the glaze produced in a wide variety of colors, generally used on porcelain or stoneware clay bodies. Celadon glazes have such popularity and impact that pieces made with it are often referred to as celadons.”

Tree, Beijing April 2013

“In this city of Cambalú is the mint of the grand khan, who may truly be said to possess the secret of the alchemists, as he has the art of producing money by the following process. He causes the bark to be stripped from those mulberry-trees the leaves of which are used for producing silk-worms, and takes from it that thin inner rind which lies between the coarser bark and the wood of the tree. This being steeped, and afterwards pounded in a mortar, until reduced to a pulp, is made into paper, resembling that which is manufactured from cotton, but quite black. When ready for use , he has it cut into pieces of money of different sizes, nearly square but somewhat longer than they are wide.”

The Travels of Marco Polo
translated by W. Marsden, revised T. Wright, edited Peter Harris



Henry Fox-Talbot, photoglyphic engraving

“I have a dream. The world is boundless gray like a piazza covered in fresh snow and seen in the dull light of just before sunrise, except there are no arcades, bell towers, churches or mausolea to limit the blankness, which extends into infinity”

Paul Griffiths, Myself And Marco Polo, A Novel


Inferno, Dante da Alighieri, Aldine edition 1502


traditional headdress

“Every face is a mask, and everybody’s life is opera. I am so interested in everybody’s life, everybody’s opera, everybody’s mask…”
Tan Dun



“I was growing up with Peking Opera, I had a fantastic chance to touch the theatre, the shadow theatre, Peking Opera, electric shadows, and all kinds of magic theatre”
Tan Dun


Construction in Beijing 2013

Reflected cranes, Beijing

Crane in flight


The Island Pagoda, Min River, Fukien, c.1871, John Thomson

‘journeys are like dawns in having no beginning or ending, but only continuing’
Paul Griffiths

Marco Polo’s Itineraries

“From medieval to Mongolian chants; from Western Opera to Peking Opera; from orchestra to sitar, pipa, and Tibetan ritual horns – the fusion of musical sounds from all corners of the globe is the definition of ‘Marco Polo’ to me.
Tan Dun

Li Po (701 – 762)

Alone Looking At The Mountain

All the birds have flown up and gone;
A lonely cloud floats leisurely by,
We never tire of looking at each other –
Only the mountain and I.

Li Po

Li Po, Shangyantai, Going Up To Sun Terrace




Woman In Traditional Headdress, John Thomson


Beijing 2013


Sandro Botticelli (1445 – 1510)
Portrait of Dante, c.1495


Rustichello costume and paper fan

‘The third face is that of RUSTICHELLO, the questioner’


Zhang Jun, Rustichello

“Of all the travel sagas ever written, none is more richly astonishing than Marco Polo’s… It records a land of such fabulous difference that to enter it was like passing through a mirror; and it is this passage…which gives the tale even now a dream-like quality”
Colin Thubron on “The Travels Of Marco Polo”



“Then with your permission,” I said, and gathered up the papers from the table, “I will return to our work.”
“Our work?” he said.
“The book,” I said.
“The book is yours,” he said.
“The book is its own.”
Myself and Marco Polo, A Novel, by Paul Griffiths