Hong Kong’s new performing arts venue dedicated to Xiqu, or Chinese opera, hit a sour note, with a row over prohibitive rents getting louder as the theatre raised the curtain on Sunday.
The long-awaited Xiqu Centre is the first major venue to open in the city’s multibillion-dollar arts hub, the West Kowloon Cultural District.
The HK$2.7 billion (US$346 million) Xiqu Centre is made up of a Grand Theatre, a more intimate Tea House Theatre, eight professional studios, a seminar hall and an atrium to host smaller events.
The design of the building, created by Bing Thom Architects, now Revery Architecture, and Ronald Lu and Partners, was inspired by traditional Chinese lanterns while the main entrance resembles parted stage curtains.
It has a mission to promote and preserve the rich heritage of traditional Chinese opera.
However, the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong, a powerful organisation representing Cantonese opera performers, has criticised the way the opera house is being run, saying it is defeating the venue’s purpose.
“The rents for the venue are too high,” association chief executive Alisa Shum said on Sunday.
“We can imagine the centre will probably end up attracting mainland Chinese groups that are sponsored by the government, or wealthy amateurs who have no problem paying more to stage their shows.”
She said it cost about HK$73,000 a day to run a show at the Grand Theatre, including 8 per cent of ticket sales.
“Except top opera groups, who else can afford it? That is not promoting Cantonese opera. That is deterring the development of Cantonese opera.”
She also said rents for the Tea House Theatre, which was designed to introduce new audiences to traditional Chinese theatre, were as high as HK$88,000 a day.
In comparison, the rent for the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, one of the top venues run by the government, is about HK$56,000 a day. Its Grand Theatre is slightly larger than the one in the Xiqu Centre. At Ko Shan Theatre in To Kwa Wan, a popular venue for new opera troupes, the rent is about HK$8,000 a day.
Shum said the association had raised its concerns to the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, which operates the hub, for the past few years.
“But our views seem to have fallen on deaf ears,” Shum said.
At a pre-opening ceremony last month, local diva Liza Wang Ming-chun, chairwoman of the association, hit out at the authority’s “spicy” rental terms.
An authority spokesman said on Sunday it was not prepared to comment.
Louis Yu Kwok-lit, the authority’s performing arts executive director, said in a previous interview that bookings had been “satisfying” and the authority would review rents and other operations in about a year.
Except top opera groups, who else can afford it? That is not promoting Cantonese opera
Alisa Shum, Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong
Officiating at the opening ceremony on Sunday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the centre would help promote Hong Kong as an international arts hub and consolidate the city’s position in the development of Cantonese opera, which was added to the Unesco list of intangible cultural heritage a decade ago.
“The contributions of the West Kowloon Cultural District will go beyond the development of arts and culture. The development of the district also enhances our quality of life,” Lam added.
Marking the centre’s three-month opening season is a star-studded version of classic Cantonese opera piece The Reincarnation of Red Plum, under the direction of stage legend Dr Pak Suet-sin, from Monday to Wednesday next week, except Thursday.
The opening season also features performances by the Hong Kong Cantonese Opera Chamber of Commerce from February 9 to March 1.
The China Theatre Association Plum Blossom Award Art Troupe will also be in Hong Kong to showcase eight different Xiqu genres in mid-March.