Sat, Oct 15, 2011 - Page 9 News List

Beijing’s opera house canceled ‘Dr Sun Yat-sen’ — but why?

For weeks there has been speculation that the cancelation was a political decision, but it is not clear which aspect of the opera caused the disapproval

By Nick Frisch  /  NY Times News Service, HONG KONG

The composer, cast and crew had already begun rehearsals in the egglike National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing when word came down from Chinese Communist Party officials in late August: The Sept. 30 world premiere of Huang Ruo’s (黃若) Dr Sun Yat-sen (中山 . 逸仙), a new opera depicting the revolutionary’s turbulent love life, would be postponed — indefinitely.

The center cited “logistical reasons” for the postponement. Opera Hong Kong, which commissioned the work, was privately given a different explanation.

“They were told the opera was not politically serious enough,” a member of the production team said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, as did others involved, because of the delicacy of the situation.

The source confirmed that Chen Ping (陳平), who serves jointly as president and party committee secretary of the center, made the final decision. The center did not return calls requesting comment.

A previously scheduled performance in Hong Kong on Thursday would now constitute the premiere. News media overseas and in the autonomous enclave of Hong Kong have speculated for weeks that the cancelation was politically motivated; China’s state-controlled media have remained silent on the topic.

In Beijing, an alternative opera, Chinese Orphan, from the center’s previous season, was prepared to be revived in place of Dr Sun Yat-sen. Ticket sales for Dr Sun were quietly halted, and mentions of it — including posters and videos in the lobby — disappeared. With hotels and rehearsal space already booked, cast members continued to rehearse in Beijing.

“People are afraid of speaking out,” a participant at one of those rehearsals said. “If we are seen as troublemakers, our careers in mainland China could be ruined.”

Another source close to the production said that “several singers used the pretext of ‘unsingable’ to try to quit,” eager to disassociate themselves from a production that had begun to exhibit signs of political fallout that were unlikely to have stemmed from simple logistical difficulties.

Last week the Swiss watchmaker Carl F. Bucherer, listed as “Title Sponsor, Opening Night” for the Hong Kong performances, disappeared from the roster of supporters in Opera Hong Kong’s publicity materials.

“We have withdrawn sponsorship,” a spokeswoman for Bucherer confirmed, declining to specify whether the decision was related to Bucherer’s ownership of a retail outlet in Beijing, its largest store in Asia.

Bucherer has remained a sponsor of 1911, Jackie Chan’s (成龍) revolutionary film epic, which hews to the orthodox depiction of Sun favored by films tailored for the mainland market: a heroic, mythic figure unlikely to dwell melodically on divorce with his soon-to-be ex-wife.

The Guangzhou Opera House, originally scheduled to present the opera on Dec. 9, has withdrawn as well.

“Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to present Dr Sun Yat-sen due to operational budgetary concerns,” a spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail.

The disruption has been felt on a practical level.

“They were expecting to have the score tightened and cut in Beijing, with the Western-style orchestra, before resetting it for the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra,” a source involved in the production said, referring to the ensemble of native Chinese instruments that will accompany the Hong Kong premiere. “Instead, we must adapt the score to the new timbre and make cuts at the same time.”

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