To the west of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, a dome-shaped construction is impressively unique among its generally square neighbors.
"The Giant Egg", it is the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA).
Sheltered under the dome are four theaters. The opera house, capable of seating an audience of 2,398, is the main stage for operas, dance-dramas, ballet and large-scale performances. The concert hall, with 2,019 seats, is dedicated to orchestral and folk music. The 1,035 seat theatre is for drama and folk dances and the smaller MF theater, capable of accommodating 556 visitors, is a quiet, elegant place for chamber music, solos, little theater dramas and modern dance.
In the heart of the capital, the NCPA seems determined from the very beginning to justify its name by taking lead in development of the performing arts.
NCPA tries to suit both refined and popular tastes. It is engaged in five categories of the performing arts: opera, concert, ballet, drama and traditional Chinese opera. It does not cater to the pop industry.
Thanks to its design and state of the art acoustics, performances in NCPA are almost invariably without electronic sound enhancement, making performances immune to accusations of fakery. That's also why the opera house has never staged a western musical.
NCPA is not content with being a mere performance venue. Looking up to the world's leading players, it is committed to the production of old and new performance programs. In the past six years the center has staged 35 productions,including grand opera , Peking opera, stage plays and dance drama. Most are outstanding works, both thought provoking and entertaining. The western opera Turandot, the Peking opera Red Cliffs, and the stage drama Wangfujing gained wide popularity among the theater goers.
Opera production takes three forms. In the initial period, NCPA imported productions such as " Rigoletto ", with foreign casts and directors. Chinese casts were sometimes used as a backup and for learning purposes. Later it collaborated with foreign or Chinese companies in production, often using Chinese casts but inviting foreign artists for leading roles or as directors. Now it invites renowned directors, conductors and singers to independently produce NCPA programs.
The NCPA set up a resident chorus in December 2009 and an orchestra in 2010. These have greatly enhanced its ability to produce programs and run performances.
Earlier this year, the NCPA completed the production of three opera films. Two of them, Verdi's Nabucco, starring Mexican tenor Placido Domingo and Masques, starring Chinese soprano Sun Xiuwei, are premiered in the venue today. NCPA has designated this Sunday a public open day with special offerings including 19 stage shows, 11 arts lectures, 6 exhibitions and more than 50 public space performances.
Production is costly, especially with foreign artists. But more and more internationally renowned directors and performers are prepared to accept reasonably payments to perform in China, because the China stage is so big and performing at the NCPA has become a new trend in the world arts circle.