GUANGZHOU, May 14 – The Guangzhou Center for the Performing Arts raised its curtain for the first time last Thursday, officially opening the massive US$202 million opera house.
Opening night featured Chen Kaige’s stage production of Puccini’s Turandot. Chen is best known for his 1993 film Farewell My Concubine.
The origins of the Guangzhou opera house can be traced back to 1987, when the municipal government decided to develop a new city district on the northern bank of the Pearl River.
The government tapped London-based avant-garde architect Zaha Hadid after her “twin boulder” proposal received the most votes when the design bids were released to the public for voting.
Construction of the opera house began in 2003 and quickly ran into problems. In addition to a fire that gutted parts of the building last May, delaying its scheduled December 2009 opening, the very design on the complex was an issue.
“From the structural steel point of view, it’s more difficult than the Bird’s Nest and CCTV’s trouser leg project,” said Yao Mingqiu, general manager of Guangdong Guangjian Project Management. “It’s the most complex thing we’ve done. Not one wall is vertical to the ground. Not one of the cross sections of the facades of the buildings is the same as any other. Hadid’s works feature incredible curves that go beyond anything anyone else would imagine. They look more like images in a dream or from the virtual world, and are almost impossible to build in the real world.”
The complex required more than 10,000 tons of steel, double the amount used to build Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts, and 5,100 pieces of glass. The bigger of the two “boulders” houses a 1,800-seat performance hall, 50 dressing rooms and a dozen balconies. The smaller structure includes a 400-seat multi-function theater. A cafe, bar and retail facilities are located between the two buildings.
The center is scheduled to host more than 200 dance, theater and opera performances a year, including the Ninth China Art Festival, which opened on Monday. The art festival will feature 65 dramas from across the country that will compete for the “Wenhua” prize, the highest performance art award in China, a spokesman of the festival’s organizing committee said.
On the opera house’s opening night, Chen’s Turandot, originally staged in 2008 for the Palau de les Arts de Valencia, seemed “tailor-made for the aesthetics,” said Ken Smith, writing in the Financial Times.
It was, as Mr. Smith alluded to in his review of the performance, another step for Turandot towards becoming China’s national opera. And opening night problems aside – latecomers were admitted after the first scene and the acoustics amplified security guard radios that had been left turned on – another step in China’s cultural emergence.