China: Beijing’s censors cancel opera’s world premiere



Beijing’s censors cancel opera’s world premiere

A new opera about Sun Yat-sen, China’s first president,
was canceled shortly before its scheduled opening in
Beijing because its music allegedly displeased the
authorities, reported several news media.

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According to the composer’s representatives, Karsten Witt Music Management in Berlin, a government official had gone to rehearsals and decided that the music was ‘inappropriate’.

The two-hour opera ‘Dr. Sun Yat-sen’ by the Asian-American composer Huang Ruo and in a production of Opera Hong Kong, performed with Western instruments, was to have had its world premiere on 30 September 2011, roughly coinciding celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese revolution, at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

Father of the Chinese Republic
Sun Yat-sen is known as “the father” of the Chinese Republic, the architect of the revolution of 1911 that brought down the Manchu dynasty. For months, public structures in Hong Kong had been draped with dreary sepia-coloured banners, some as large as a small building, publicising the new opera about him.

A version with Chinese instruments performed in Putonghua with Chinese and English subtitles is scheduled to be performed – and have its world premiere – on 13-15 October 2011 in Hong Kong.

Conspiracy theories
Officially the Beijing premiere was abruptly called off for “logistical reasons”, and this caused a plethora of conspiracy theories on the front pages of Hong Kong newspapers, according to the Financial Times:

“The reasons mooted for the cancellation run from reported complaints by the National Council of Performing Arts in Beijing that the music was either not ready or “too modern” to be performed, to speculation that the love story of Sun and his third wife, Soong Ching-ling, who was 26 years his junior, was too racy for Beijing’s censors. Inevitably, there have also been plenty of hypotheses put forward in this technicoloured soap opera that the political content worried the cultural commissars in Beijing.”

Ultra-sensitivity to specific words
According to the newspaper, no one was more bewildered by the cancellation of the opening performance than Candace Chong, the opera’s Hong Kong Chinese librettist, who graduated from Hong Kong’s Academy of Performing Arts in 2001. Chong had been on the verge of buying tickets for her family and herself to fly from New York to the Beijing premiere of the opera when she heard that it had been cancelled.

“For an opera to be cancelled three weeks before is ridiculous,” she told the Financial Times.

According to Rahul Jacob, who wrote the article in Financial Times, some of the speculation about why the opera was cancelled has centred on the Chinese government’s ultra-sensitivity on the internet and in performances to words like “corrupt government” – and even “jasmine”, in the aftermath of the Jasmine Revolution that unfolded in the Middle East this year.

Web-banner promoting the opera

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The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s Cultural Presentations Section:

‘Opera: Dr. Sun Yat-sen’


Financial Times – 7 October 2011:

‘Sensitive arias’

The New York Times – 26 September 2011:

‘Historical Opera Is Canceled in Beijing’

American Opera Projects:

Official home page about the opera ‘Sun Yat-sen’

Latest news on this topic

Google News – continuously updated:

Search: “Sun Yat-sen” + “Huang Ruo”

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