Suzhou Kun Opera Theatre of Jiangsu Province The Palace of Eternal Youth (Part One) Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts Last performance (Part Three) tonight 'People respect the clothes first before the person wearing them,' is a Chinese proverb about first encounters. If that is true, then The Palace of Eternal Youth surely presents a meeting of the most reverential kind. Setting the scene was the complete cast, dressed in splendid red attire. They paraded on stage as Tang dynasty emperor Tang Minghuang held court and pledged his love to his new concubine, Yang Yuhuan, amid much fanfare. As openings go, this is easily one of the most spectacular in traditional kunqu theatre. But that is not surprising, since director Gu Duhuang's version of Hong Sheng's original text is easily the most elaborate production of the piece in decades. The drama comprises 27 acts performed across three nights (Part Three is tonight). Tang Minghuang's indulgence of his new consort - which led to an age of excess, cronyism, mutiny and finally Yang's death - is a well-known, true-life story. Part One is the least demanding. Its 10 mostly celebrative and comic acts just set the scene for the tragedy that is to come. Part Two is the most overwrought of the three dates, as the emperor is disgraced, exiled and forced to allow Yang to commit suicide. It brings the Palace's supporting facets to the fore. Designer Tim Yip Kam-tim has worked wonders reinventing the kunqu wardrobe, phasing out gaudy contrasts and evoking grace, while retaining the usual extravagant embroidery. The Palace debuted in Taiwan with just six musicians, but is using about 15 this week. They lent variety and vigour to Part One, noticeably during the first scene, The Pledge, and also in more peripheral acts like Delivering the Lychees, which depicts the people's suffering under tyranny. The Palace of Eternal Youth, as a showcase of the power of traditional Chinese performing arts, should - and probably will - define this year's Hong Kong Arts Festival.