The Peony Pavilion will not be performed at Lincoln Center Festival 98, Festival Director Nigel Redden has revealed. "It is with regret and disappointment that I announce that the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Culture has not given permission for the Shanghai Kunju Opera Company to depart for New York City on July 3 as originally scheduled," Redden said at a press conference in Shanghai held at 6 AM EST. "This action means that the Bureau has effectively canceled the appearance of the Shanghai Kunju Opera Company in Chen Shi-Zheng's production of The Peony Pavilion at Lincoln Center Festival 98."
The announcement coincided with President Clinton's arrival in Shanghai, the third stop on his nine-day tour of China. Though there was no direct appeal to the president in the address, Redden seems aware that, at this point, Clinton is perhaps the only person who can free the production from the grasp of censoring officials in the Shanghai Bureau of Culture. Redden told the New York Times on June 29, "This is the time when President Clinton, or Secretary of State [Madeleine] Albright, should speak out. My hope is that somehow the timing of his visit will help us." Throughout his trip, Clinton has urged Chinese leaders to increase the personal freedoms of the citizenry. As of late afternoon on June 30, Clinton had not responded to Redden's statement.
The Peony Pavilion, a 20-hour, 16th-century Chinese opera, was to be the centerpiece of the 1998 Lincoln Center Festival. The trouble surrounding the production began on June 18, when the Shanghai Bureau of Culture and its director, Ma Bomin, suddenly seized the show's materials, demanding changes in the production which Ma criticized as containing "feudal," "ignorant" and "pornographic" aspects.
After a week of negotiations, Ma released the sets, costumes and props for the opera; they arrived in New York on Monday, June 29, enough behind schedule to prevent Peony Pavilion from opening the festival on July 7 as planned. The show, however, still lacked a cast, since Ma yet demanded changes in the production's staging. 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.
According to the Times, the cast was taken to a country guest house outside Shanghai to rehearse a new version of the opera. Chen agreed to the alterations, but apparently that has not satisfied Shanghai authorities. "We find this decision truly incomprehensible," said Redden, "as Lincoln Center and Mr. Chen have made every effort over the past 10 days to address the concerns of the Bureau of Culture." The cancellation of the opera leaves a 20-hour hole in the festival's schedule. To partially fill it, Redden said Lincoln Center was considering the possibility of staging a special event focusing on the topic of artistic freedom. Festival spokesperson Eileen McMahon said the human rights evening was only an idea at this point and there were no word as to what form it would take.
-- By Robert Simonson