Three Tenors sing praises of Beijing bid

Even before the curtain goes up on the Three Tenors concert in Beijing this weekend, Luciano Pavarotti has already given the performance that its promoters wanted: he endorsed China's bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo sing Saturday before an audience of 30,000 at the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace, in the biggest of a string of Olympics-related events meant to show off Beijing's ability to hold major international gatherings.

"I think Beijing deserves the Olympics," Pavarotti said Thursday in his ebulliently fractured English. "And hopefully these Olympics are bringing here a different kind of . . . feeling and hopefully is the first step toward peace in the world."

The concert on World Olympics Day comes three weeks before the International Olympic Committee meets in Moscow to announce the site of the 2008 games. The Chinese capital's rivals are Toronto, Paris, Istanbul and Osaka, Japan.

The $10-million US gala concert Saturday is in the spirit of an Olympic bid that has spared no effort or expense to show off Beijing. Other events have included mass calisthenics on Tiananmen Square in central Beijing and a bid by 2,008 children to set a rope-skipping record.

The Olympic bid committee is one of the sponsors of the production Saturday. The event "will be the pinnacle of our Olympic Day celebrations and demonstrate Beijing's determined endeavor as a bid city, and the Chinese people's passion in pursuit of Olympic ideals," said Jiang Xiaoyu, vice director of the bid committee.

The list of invited guests includes former South African president Nelson Mandela, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Hong Kong film stars Chow Yun-fat and Jackie Chan and other Chinese celebrities.

The concert is to be followed by a banquet at the Great Hall of the People. The vast building on Tiananmen Square in front of the palace is the site for meetings of China's legislature and Communist Party.

Tickets range in price from $60 to $2,000.

Foreign ticketholders also are promised red-carpet treatment. Chinese officials say they will be issued visas on arrival at the Beijing airport, sparing them the trouble of applying at consulates abroad.

The concert is to take place in the courtyard of the Meridian Gate in the heart of the 100-hectare former imperial palace. The home of Chinese emperors for five centuries is now a museum.

Its temples and pavilions have been the setting for a series of high-profile extravaganza performances. The opera Turandot was performed there in 1998, conducted by Zubin Mehta and staged by star Chinese film director Zhang Yimou.

"The three of us are extremely moved to have the opportunity to sing at the Forbidden City," Carreras said.

Preparations included shrouding the Meridian Gate and surrounding stonework in protective padding. The producers said they were making a donation to support preservation work at the palace.

Pavarotti and Carreras have been darlings of the Chinese state media this week. Television showed their arrival at Beijing airport, and newspapers are filled with pictures of Pavarotti in a straw hat seeing the sights. Domingo is to arrive Saturday.