Conspiracy theories flourish after China cancels opera

This Thursday Hong Kong will host the world premiere of Dr. Sun Yat-sen after China abruptly cancelled the opera’s original world premiere at Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts.

The opera, commissioned by Opera Hong Kong and the Hong Kong government, was to have had its world premiere on 30 September to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Chinese revolution.

Sun is a widely revered Chinese revolutionary who helped bring down the Qing dynasty in 1911.

The official explanation for calling off the opera was “logistical reasons”, but media have been wildly speculating as to a range of other possible causes.

The New York Times cited an unnamed agent who works for the composer’s management company as saying that a Chinese government official simply didn’t like the music.

“I guess because maybe it’s not romantic enough, something like that,” the agent said.

The Financial Times suggests that perhaps the words were too politically sensitive. It quotes Sun’s lines in the first scene: “The Qing court is furious, They are turning our country into a prison! But this cage cannot silence oppositional voices … now there are debates with people urging change.” In the wake of the Arab Spring, the government has become ultra-sensitive over protests occurring in China, it muses.

Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post (subscription only) says mainland sources deny it has anything to do with politics or the opera’s subject matter.

“Things like this happen all the time on the mainland,” it quotes a mainland performing arts musician as saying. “Just a [negative] remark from a leader would do it.”