THE Edinburgh International Festival announced its 2013 programme this morning. Here, Scotsman critics offer their first impressions.
CLASSICAL AND OPERA
We’ve known Jonathan Mills long enough to expect music and opera that is challenging, idiosyncratic, and usually not what the old guard of Edinburgh International Festival-goers would necessarily expect. It’s been controversial, commercially risky, sometimes a little too eccentric for its own integrity. This year, though, I’m especially excited by what’s on offer.
With opera, Mills delivers a provocative sleight of hand - Opéra de Lyon’s Fidelio, re-imagining Beethoven’s rescue opera in the present and future on board a doomed spacecraft; Berg’s Lulu, completed controversially after his death, now rewritten for Scottish Opera and The Opera Group with jazz leanings and Las Vegas-style ensemble as American Lulu; and a double bill of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by Opera Frankfurt that turns Bartok’s claustrophobic psychodrama inside out.
New music - from Ensemble musikFabic’s tribute to Frank Zappa, and the Philip Glass Ensemble lip-syncing to Cocteau’s classic film La Belle et la Bête, to late night concerts that encompass Messiaen, Stockhausen, and the fascinating electronics of Marco Stroppa - is bold, brazen and a shot on the arm for hard-edged modernism.
No worries either for those whose ideal Festival means beefy symphonic nights at the Usher Hall and cosy mornings at the Queen’s Hall. The former, a series of top international orchestras and artists framed by Valery Gergiev’s opening night performance of Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky and a final night Verdi Requiem conducted by Donald Runnicles, shouldn’t disappoint, even where Mahler, Rachmaninov, Brahms and the rest are hotly seasoned by Schoenberg, Varèse, Ives, and such radical novelties as American maverick Tod Machover’s Festival City, a Festival commission that invites us all to contribute via web-based app.
Midori, Nikolai Lugansky, harpsichordist Christophe Rousset, and the Arditti Quartet lead an impressive Queen’s Hall line-up. It’s all mad enough to make sense.
With its dazzling showcase of work by some of the world’s greatest directors, Jonathan Millls’s 2012 theatre programme was always going to be a hard act to follow. Yet for 2013, Mills has made a fascinating job of assembling a theatre programme which reflects on this year’s central theme of art and technology, and which - alongside the visual art and contemporary music strands of the festival - helps to explore the interface between live performance and media such as film, radio, television, and online media.
So at the centre of this year’s programmme sits the legendary Wooster Group of New York, long-term pioneers of the relationship between theatre and news-driven media, with a version of Hamlet that involves a sustained interaction between live performance, and a rare film of Richard Burton’s 1964 Hamlet on Broadway. There’s a return visit from Teatrocinema of Chile, who delighted Edinburgh audiences in 2010 with their uncanny mix of theatre and film, and who present the European premiere of their Histoire D’Amour. There’s a world premiere from the Edinburgh-based Grid Iron company, involving a site-specific setting on the edge of Edinburgh, and a science-fiction exploration of the moment when our species is finally - in the words of the title - Leaving Planet Earth.
And later in the Festival, there is a rich weekend feast of the work of Samuel Beckett, featuring five exploratory stage productions of texts that Beckett originally wrote for other media, alongside a full showcase of the Gate Theatre, Dublin’s magnificent turn-of-the-millennium series of films of Beckett’s work. Add an acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus from the Beijing People’s Art Theatre - featuring two top Chinese heavy metal bands - and you have a theatre programme a little more low-key than last year’s, but fully as thought provoking; and to set it all in context, there’s a brief visit from the wonderful American composer, singer, and theatremaker Meredith Monk, who - amid the firestorm of technological change - offers an exquisite 75-minute meditation On Behalf Of Nature.
Two things jump out of this year’s Festival dance programme: one is the size and complexity of Scottish Ballet’s Dance Odysseys, and the other is the absence of a big, full-length, guaranteed crowd pleaser. Neither of which is a problem, just a different way of viewing dance.
Personally, I can’t wait to dive into Scottish Ballet’s four-day residency at the Festival Theatre, soaking up work by esteemed choreographers such as Édouard Lock, Christopher Bruce and Jirí Kylián, and some rising stars of the dance world. New artistic director Christopher Hampson’s decision to share the long weekend with Scottish Dance Theatre and Barcelona’s Gelabert Azzopardi Companyia de Dansa should make for a programme of rich diversity.
Los Angeles is home to many things, but until recently it lacked its own modern dance company. Benjamin Millepied changed all that by founding the LA Dance Project. What’s interesting here is that French-born Millepied spent years dancing and choreographing with New York City Ballet, and has now moved into contemporary territory, presenting works by Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe. He’s also the man who choreographed (and then married) Natalie Portman in the 2010 film, Black Swan, so I’m looking forward to seeing his own contribution to the company’s Festival triple bill.
The final two shows (disappointingly, there are only four distinct programmes in the dance line-up this year, compared to seven in 2012) both rely heavily on film, so could either be visually stunning or annoyingly distracting. José Montalvo has already proved himself on that front, with 2007’s On Danse, so a wide mix of dance styles, from ballet to hip hop, and well-integrated film footage should be on the cards in Don Quichotte du Trocadéro.
South Korean company YMAP is more of an unknown quantity, but given the marital conflict in the 1950s film which inspired their Festival show, Madame Freedom, I’m hopeful of some thought-provoking viewing.