And now for something completely different in the way of opera -- the Peking Opera.

From Sept. 2 to 14, the Peking Opera will appear on the stage of the Kennedy Center Opera House to perform, among other works, "The Monkey King Fights the Eighteen Lo Hans." (Those are demon warriors.)

The two-week engagement features work from a Chinese theatrical tradition that has only once been glimpsed in the United States in recent memory -- at Wolf Trap in 1978. The full company, which started in the 19th century, has never been seen here.

Chines opera is not just opera. "They're plays with music, mime, chanting, acrobatics," said Sheldon Gold, president of ICM Artists, the New York-based company which is bringing this group to the United States.

Gold should know.In three weeks' time in Peking last March he saw about 40 such operas before deciding which he would like to book there. That usually meant an opera in the morning and an opera in the evening. Some were long -- three hours. Some were short -- five minutes. (Presumably we won't be getting just those.)

Plots of these operas, an art form which dates back hundreds of years in China, are generally based on Chinese folktales, and actors are made up quite heavily to symbolize different things. In addition to the "Monkey King," the touring operas include "Yan Dang Mountain" and "Three-Fork Crossroads" or "The Fight in the Dark."

"It's something the American public can see without bringing any knowledge of any special ethnic background," said Gold, who knows only four words of Chinese -- "learned gruelingly over the last few months," he added. Gold first discussed the idea of the tour with the cultural counselor of the Chinese Embassy late last year.

The Kennedy Center engagement -- where ticket prices will range from $8 to $18.50 on weekdays and $9 to $20 on Friday and Saturday -- is part of a 12-week, 10-city tour set up by ICM. The tour opens Aug. 12 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City for two weeks. Then the Peking Opera splits one week between the Ambler Festival in Philadelphdia and the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey before coming to the Kennedy Center. The later cities on the tour include Los Angeles, Concord (California, outside San Francisco), Louisville, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Boston.