Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Edinburgh International Festival 2010 - a retrospective

'Hang on there, Fantasy Bob', you're thinking, 'that's a bit of a change of subject compared to rubbish about biscuits playing cricket.'

Yes, dear readers, occasionally we have to raise our eyes from the frivolous and the everyday to concentrate on the eternal - not Barnacle Barrett playing out another maiden over, but those things other than cricket that make our life on this planet worthwile. 

Despite its programme ignoring the creative possibilities of cricketing themes (a long standing failure which Festival fans might have thought could be corrected when an Australian was appointed Director) the Edinburgh International Festival is central to Fantasy Bob's cultural life.  Over the years he has attended many great and life enhancing events at Festival time.

This year the absence in the programme of serious cricketing material was again shamefully obvious.  By comparison the Fringe did a bit better - since Test Match Special's very own Henry Blofield was performing.  Unfortunately other commitments meant that FB could not attend Blowers' show.  But he did as usual sign up in April for a range of drama and music on the EIF.  (FB is not a great fan of modern dance which seems to be everywhere, like some cultural equvalent of T20.)

Yet again opera was almost as poorly represented as cricket.  Porgy and Bess was adequate, but no more.  FB felt vindicated in avoiding Montezuma when the reviews panned it.  Bliss sounded interesting but couldn't be fitted into FB's schedule.  FB considers that platform performances in the Usher Hall are a poor second and rarely signs up.   Such has been the barrenness of recent opera programming, that it seems many many years since Scottish Opera's triumphant Ring Cycle or Abbado's awesome Parsifal.  This just isn't good enough, says Fantasy Bob.  Damn the expense.  It really is about time that EIF returned to a proper commitment to great opera. 

The drama programme brought several companies from the New World.  But there was no presentation of anything recognisable as a great classic of world theatre through their eyes - a weakness in FB's opinion.  No Shakespeare, no Chekhov, no Miller, no Greeks.  An obscure work by Tennessee Williams was as near as we got.  FB sat through this (Vieux Carre) without much enjoyment.  As this work confirmed to FB, there are usually reasons why works are obscure.  The failings of the National Theatre of Scotland's Caledonia have already prompted FB's comment in a match report.  Sin Sangre by the Chilean company Teatrocinema had its moments, but for FB any production where the audience comes away wondering about how it is done is a failure.  (This company's style is to make stage works look like movies - and very clever it is too, but what really is the point?)  The Sun Also Rises was taken from Hemingway's early novel and at 4 hours was too long by at least an hour and a half.  It seemed also to focus on bullfighting for some reason when cricket would have been a much better choice of metaphor. Maybe it was the fault of his choices, but for FB this was far from a vintage drama programme.

By contrast the music programme delivered.  It was good to see the return of large orchestral works to the music programme and this is where FB found his highlights this year.  The final week gave us 2 Mahler symphonies - 3 and 8.  The 3 was played by the Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam whose string section may well be unrivalled.  The 8 was a home grown performance by the BBCSSO with home choirs and imported singers.  Together they simply blew the audience away.  Truly life affirming and inspiring.  FB also heard some fine Bruckner, Shostakovich and Strauss (Richard not Andrew).  But it was the Mahler that made the final week's concert going magnificent.  More of this please.

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