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Saturday, 4 November, 2000, 08:28 GMT
Shanghai stages biggest Aida
Police rehearse Aida
One thousand police have been rehearsing walk-on parts
By the BBC's Duncan Hewitt

The Shanghai international arts festival has been launched with the largest ever performance of Verdi's opera Aida - in a football stadium.

The event, featuring a cast of 3,000 and a giant pyramid, attracted an audience of 45,000.

The opera has been performed in Italy and at the pyramids, but never before in a Chinese football stadium.

It marks another stage in the city's bid to establish itself as an international cultural centre.

This version of Aida, from acclaimed Croatian director, Kresimir Dolenciche, features a cast of European opera stars, a chorus of 500 and 1,000 Chinese soldiers in walk-on parts.

orchestra
The show features a pyramid which turns into a sphinx
The Shanghai stadium has been recreated as ancient Egypt, complete with a 30m high pyramid which turns into a giant sphinx.

Organisers say the tickets sold out long ago, yet the event has not been without its problems.

The original cast of 100 elephants, camels, lions and tigers had to be cut to just 17 because of worries about audience safety.

Some local media criticised the expense involved in assembling such a lavish show for just one night.

A second performance has now been added, with most of the leading roles taken by local understudies.

That does at least mean cheaper tickets for locals who complained about the high prices.

Subtitles

But doubts have been raised as to whether Verdi's tender tale of the doomed love of an Egyptian soldier for Aida, the daughter of the King of Ethiopia, will survive the transition to the giant stadium.

One paper said the acoustics were doubtful and the audience would struggle to see the Chinese subtitles even with binoculars.

Nevertheless, Shanghai officials are determined to turn the city's arts festival into an event of international stature, with performances by stars like Spanish dancer Joaquin Cortes and a new biennial art exhibition.

Participants include modern Chinese painters as well as installation artists and video makers from Japan, Taiwan and the US.

Shanghai officials have been on inspection tours to events like the Edinburgh international arts festival in an attempt to pick up new ideas.

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