BEIJING • Sumi Jo, a Grammy Award-winning South Korean soprano, had been scheduled to perform alongside three top orchestras in mainland China.
One venue billed the performance as a "grand and worthy" tribute to the beloved opera singer Maria Callas by "one of the most sought-after Korean sopranos in the world". But on Sunday, about a month before the concerts were scheduled to take place, the three orchestras issued separate but seemingly coordinated notices announcing that Jo, a veteran coloratura soprano, would no longer be performing.
The cancellations have heightened suspicions that South Korean classical musicians are the latest casualties of political tensions with China that go back to July, when the government in Seoul announced that it would deploy a US missile defence system known as Thaad on its soil.
In statements published on their official WeChat social media accounts, the orchestras - the Shanghai Symphony, the Guangzhou Symphony and the China Philharmonic in Beijing - offered little or no explanation for why Jo would not be performing.
The China Philharmonic noted that Jo and South Korean conductor Min Chung had been "forced to withdraw" from the performance for "specific reasons".
For the concerts in Guangzhou and Shanghai, Jo will be replaced by Chinese soprano Ying Huang. In Beijing, her spot will be filled by Chinese soprano Liping Zhang, while Chinese conductor Yang Yang will replace Chung.
The Xi'an Concert Hall has also removed from its online performance calendar information about a concert that had been scheduled for March 25 and that was to feature Jo. It was not part of the Callas tribute series.
Jo's performances with the Hong Kong Philharmonic on Feb 3 and 4 appear to be unaffected. The semiautonomous region has a separate visa application process.
The announcements on Sunday came just days after a performance by South Korean pianist Paik Kun Woo and the Guiyang Symphony Orchestra scheduled for March in the Chinese province of Guizhou was abruptly called off last Wednesday.
Based on Guiyang Symphony Orchestra's website, it appears that Paik has been replaced in the programme by Chinese pianist Sa Chen.
Many observers had been expecting various forms of Chinese retaliation after the announcement about the missile system.
In August, several events in China featuring South Korean music and television stars were suddenly called off, setting off fears that the Chinese government was quietly going after K-pop, one of South Korea's biggest cultural exports.