Shanghai officials are steadfastly refusing to release the sets and costumes for The Peony Pavilion, a 16th-century Chinese opera that was to be the centerpiece of the 1998 Lincoln Center Festival, forcing festival director Nigel Redden to fly to China in an attempt to diffuse the situation.
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.
The first part of the 22-hour production is still officially scheduled to open the festival on July 7 at the LaGuardia Theater. Redden left for China on Saturday, June 20. He hopes to have the six tons of costumes and sets on their way to the U.S. by June 25, said festival publicist Eileen McMahon. "After Thursday, we might still be able to do it, but it would be cutting it awfully close," McMahon said.
The dispute over the opera comes only days before President Clinton's long-planned visit to China.
-- By Robert Simonson