Lincoln Center Festival Artistic Director Nigel Redden spent all of yesterday in talks with Shanghai custom officials, trying to secure the release of 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. No progress has been made, however, said festival spokesperson Eileen McMahon, and the festival's staff are busily preparing for a worst-case scenario.
"We are trying to put together a back-up plan to find out a way to still present the opera if it arrives later than expected," McMahon told Playbill On-Line. The plan would involve mounting the production during the latter days of the festival, which runs at and around Lincoln Center July 7-July 26. The first part of the 22-hour opera is still officially scheduled to open the festival on July 7 at the LaGuardia Theater.
Meanwhile, Redden will begin another day of talks the morning of June 24 in Shanghai (about 10 PM June 23 ET). He is not alone in his efforts. To aid the festival's cause, Lincoln Center Chairperson Beverly Sills has contacted former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, long an intimate with the Chinese government. Kissinger will not make the trip to Shanghai himself, but is calling various Chinese officials to press the issue.
Redden left for China Saturday, June 20. He said he hopes to have the six tons of costumes and sets on their way to the U.S. by Thursday, June 25. 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 dispute goes to the heart of `What is Kunju opera?'," said McMahon.
-- By Robert Simonson