Posts Tagged ‘chinese princess’

Classical music and media in China 4

Monday, August 11th, 2008

by Ken Smith

After my review in the Financial Times asked what exactly was new in the “global premiere” of “the Chinese version” of Tan Dun’s opera Tea at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, I got an email from someone insisting that, based on the photo that ran in the print edition of the FT, the production is indeed the one that premiered last fall at the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic’s International Composer’s Festival. I’m still keen to know what was new here. Interestingly enough, the sole credit given to the Stockholm Philharmonic in the program (in the smallest type possible) concerned the most problematic element of the evening. During a love scene on stage between the main characters, a Japanese monk and a Chinese princess, the scene incorporates background projections of animals mating. The version created for Stockholm apparently went well beyond the birds and the bees, and Chinese censors balked. A shortened version was later approved, leaving the production team to interpret the censors’ silent ruling as “No mammals.”


One of the more remarkable things about the marketing for the Tea premiere last week was the absence of the director’s name in Chinese. Placed awkwardly on a vertical Chinese design were two words in English you had to turn your head to read: the name “Chiang Ching.” The problem for the Taiwan-born, American-based dancer-director – who is probably most famous in operatic circles for choreographing Franco Zeffirelli’s Turandot for the Met – is that she shares the exact given name of the most hated women in modern China. Not only did the Ministry of Culture refuse to print her Chinese name in public – it did appear in the program – but they acknowledged her only in the officially detested Wade-Giles method of Romanization (still the standard in Taiwan) rather than the mainland system of pinyin, where she would be “Jiang Qing,” the same as the infamous wife of Mao Zedong, who remains she-who-must-not-be-named in the Chinese media. In this regard, Tan could’ve learned a lesson from his Columbia University colleague Bright Sheng, whose opera “Madame Mao,” written for the Santa Fe Opera in 2003, is still unmentioned in the Chinese media. Sheng was widely assumed to have been blacklisted from China performances for several seasons after Santa Fe had announced the commission.