EVENTS & PROMOTIONS: CHINA'S INT'L CULTURE CLUB: MARKETERS BACK PRODUCTION OF PUCCINI OPERA IN FORBIDDEN CITY

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What's being billed as China's biggest cultural event in decades is drawing international marketers to the Forbidden City to sponsor a $15 million production of "Turandot."

The project underscores a growing trend linking cultural interests with global business.

The location is most appropriate: Giacomo Puccini set his opera in Beijing's Forbidden City, and this rendition is attracting thousands of tourists, as well as corporations intent on developing connections to Chinese businesses.

"Turandot," to be conducted by Zubin Mehta and directed by Zhang Yimou (a three-time Oscar nominee), will be performed outdoors by a cast of 1,000, in eight performances from Sept. 5 to 13.

LAST-MINUTE RUSH

Sponsors flocked aboard at the last minute, five years after the event was first conceived, said Michael Ecker, the Vienna-based producer who organized it through his company, Opera-on-Original-Site, and the China Performing Arts Agency.

"China has suddenly become the No. 1 hot spot for international business, and especially now everyone is trying to get on board with sponsorships," Mr. Ecker said.

International companies joint-venture with Chinese companies, as required by the government, to become sponsors. Sponsors include telecommunications company Ericsson; Movado Group; SBC Warburg Dillon Read, the recently merged investment bank; Seagram Co.; and Tricon Global Restaurants.

Tricon's Pizza Hut and KFC will sell food on site, and Time Inc., playing a sponsorship role, is helping publicize the opera, said Steven Flanders, president of Entertainment Management Co., New York, which is handling sponsorship sales.

The production is expected to draw as many as 20,000 spectators.

`SPECTACULAR PRODUCTION'

"Events on this scale bring people out who have never listened to opera because it's a spectacular production," Mr. Flanders said.

Ticket prices also approach the spectacular-from $150 to $1,500-but the performances are expected to sell out this month. Some tickets include a gala party and dinner for 1,000 spectators.

Mr. Ecker said U.S. accounting firms are leading the charge for corporate hospitality tickets for clients and guests.

"Accounting firms have a big stake in getting associated with Chinese businesses, it seems," he said. "Banks, too, are making a big investment."

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