The Peony Pavilion, a 16th-century Chinese opera that was to be the centerpiece of the 1998 Lincoln Center Festival, will not open on July 7 as scheduled. At noon (ET) June 24, Festival Director Nigel Redden was notified by Chinese officials that the costumes, props, and musical instruments necessary for the presentation of the production would not be released by the Shanghai Bureau of Culture by Thursday, June 25.
"By making this demand," said Lincoln Center Chairman Beverly Sills in a statement, "the Bureau of Culture has constructively canceled the engagement of The Peony Pavilion as part of Lincoln Center Festival 98."
The Shanghai Kunju Opera Company production, which was paid for by Lincoln Center, was to have left China for the U.S. June 18. But the Municipal Bureau of Culture held back the shipment, and Shanghai officials attacked the opera's director, Chen Shi-Zheng, for his portrayal of China. The 1598 work by Tang Xianxu, which tells the erotic story of a young woman who meets her lover in a dream, has been long censored in China.
Redden and Chen Shi-Zheng have been in Shanghai since Saturday, June 20, endeavoring to resolve the situation. Culture officials, however, have remained firm, insisting that the production be uncrated and that the actors rehearse the entire 20-hour opera for review. The officials said it was their intention to make appropriate revisions in the work. Ma Bomin, director of the Bureau of Culture, issued a statement accusing the Chen Shi-Zheng of infusing the ancient opera with "feudal," "ignorant," and "pornographic" aspects. He further said that extensive changes in the production would be required to secure its release.
"Lincoln Center has grave concerns about participating in an exercise which attacks the artistic integrity of the work which we commissioned over one year ago," said Sills. "A work of this nature, spanning over 20 hours in length and which has been rehearsed and crafted over the past eight months cannot be effectively recreated in a single week." Festival publicist Eileen McMahon told Playbill On-Line on June 23 that Lincoln Center was "trying to put together a back-up plan to find out a way to still present the opera if it arrives later than expected." It could not be learned by press time whether this was still the case or what shows, if any would fill the 20 hours left empty, should the opera not debut at all. By a highly unlucky coincidence, Lincoln Center's deadline for shipping the opera materials, June 25, is the same date President Clinton begins a three-day visit to China.
-- By Robert Simonson