China's gleaming new National Center for the Performing Arts, a futuristic dome made of glass and titanium shimmering in the midst of a large reflecting pool, hosted its first public concert over the weekend in Beijing.
The Dec. 22 program, televised live throughout the nation, featured two orchestras, the China National Symphony and the Beijing Symphony, with two conductors and four choirs taking part. Four young violinists, all recent Paganini Competition winners, shared a concerto. The guest soloist of honor was pianist Yundi Li, who has a major international career and a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.
The Center, designed by French architect Paul Andreu, is one of several large new architectural showpieces commissioned by the Chinese government in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The complex includes three performance spaces: a 2,416-seat opera house, a 2,017-seat concert hall and a 1,040-seat theater. The total cost of construction is more than $330 million.
The first foreign company to take the NCPA stage is that of the Mariinsky Theater of St. Petersburg (still marketed in the U.S. under its Soviet-era name, the Kirov Opera and Ballet). Conductor Valery Gergiev and his forces begin a 12-days-of-Christmas residency tomorrow with Borodin's opera Prince Igor; other repertoire they've programmed for Beijing includes the ballets Swan Lake, Le Corsaire and George Balanchine's Jewels.
The New Year's Eve and New Year's Day concerts at the National Center feature Seiji Ozawa conducting the China National Symphony Orchestra with guest soloists Vadim Repin, Kathleen Battle and Lang Lang. The pianist, who enjoys major celebrity status in his homeland, will also give solo recitals on Jan. 3 and 4; just before that, on Jan. 2, Kiri Te Kanawa's worldwide farewell tour makes a stop there.
The Center's directors are keeping its stages busy for its first season, which runs through April 6. Both the China National Symphony Orchestra and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra will play there regularly, and the Taipei Symphony performs a program as well. Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic will wrap up their 2008 winter tour of China at the Center on Feb. 24, just before their much-discussed performance in North Korea.
As for opera and dance, the National Ballet of China presents Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and Roland Petit's 1973 Pink Floyd Ballet in late January, and the Shanghai Opera House offers Verdi's Otello in February. To close the NCPA's first season, France's Th_ê¢tre du Capitole de Toulouse brings a production of Lalo's Le Roi d'Ys in early April.
In addition, the Center is producing a "new version" of Turandot which is billed as a world premiere, though the season brochure available via the Center's website is unclear as to whether this is a new staging of Puccini's score or an entirely new work.
The NCPA is hosting regular offerings of spoken theater and traditional Chinese opera (in Beijing and Kunqu styles) as well, and, in the first week of March, there will even be a series of recitals on the concert hall's new pipe organ.
For information on the new National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, visit www.chncpa.org. Currently the website is almost entirely in Chinese, but scroll down and look in the right column to find a banner linking to a bilingual brochure (PDF format) listing the season's offerings.