On its 60th anniversary, the Edinburgh International Festival is long established as one of the highlights of the British cultural year.
Jonathan Mills, in his first year as Festival Director, has been daring in programming so much Renaissance and earlier music.
But his gamble has paid off – in the first four days of booking, the box office took 1 million in sales, and the festival looks to be as highly attended as ever.
At the centre of the line up is Monteverdi’s Orfeo and the composer’s “idea of connecting music and drama” (Jonathan Mills). Orfeo itself is performed by La Capella Reial de Catalunya under Jordi Savall (making his Edinburgh Festival debut) in a production from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona. Opus Arte released it on DVD in 2002 to great acclaim, and I for one can’t wait (from 11 August). Savall also gives a viola da gamba recital on 13 August and his group performs Monteverdi’s Vespers on 16 August (unmissable).
Going further back in time, the oddly-named group Anonymous 4 sing Music from Eleventh Century Provence on 20 August. Or try the music of Josquin Desprez, perhaps the master of high-Renaissance polyphony, here with the Orlando Consort (21 August). And back to Monteverdi – if you can last through all five concerts, make sure to catch a series of the composer’s madrigals, with the highly regarded Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini (from 11 August). The Tallis Scholars perform Palestrina on 30 August, which is recommendation in itself.
With regard to opera, the works chosen are all felt to represent a potent moulding of words and music. Hence we have Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, the composer’s weird, angular masterpiece. I saw Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts last week in mad Offenbach, and here he sings the title role of this more serious work. Ilan Volkov conducts this double bill, which appropriately begins with Stravinsky’s ballet score Orpheus (23 August). Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso is essential for the presence of Jennifer Larmore (12 August), while a double bill of Purcell and Salieri on 26 August features Roderick Williams and Jane Irwin. Thomas Allen opens the festival in Bernstein’s Candide (10 August) and Cologne Opera bring Strauss’ Capriccio to close it – the opera asks whether words or music are more important. It’s a thoughtful choice of work (from 28 August).
There is such a lot else to recommend. Thomas Ads (superb composer and conductor) and Anthony Marwood (even better violinist) appear with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on 13 August. Alfred Brendel turns up on 15 August. Ian Bostridge sings The Creation on 20 August under Roger Norrington (looking rather like Salman Rushdie on the festival website). Superb violist Yuri Bashmet is in recital on 24 August. Christine Brewer sings on 28 August. Mariss Jansons brings the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra over on 28 August to perform La Mer and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Deborah Voigt sings a scene from Strauss’ Salome on 30 August (I wasn’t convinced when I last heard her live, but this is her preferred repertoire).
It’s not all music of course. The theme of mythology is carried over from Orfeo to theatre, and productions include The Bacchae, in a new version starring Alan Cumming (from 11 August), and Beowulf (from 18 August). Poppea turns out to be a contemporary remix of Monteverdi’s final opera (from 11 August); La Didone a version of Cavalli’s work (from 18 August). And Orpheus X is a contemporary reworking of the myth (from 25 August). Fingers crossed. And you even find Rameau’s music cropping up in contemporary dance – On Danse starts 11 August. Oh, and Monteverdi’s music is used by the Trisha Brown Dance Company (from 24 August). Finally, the Scottish Ballet are worth catching, especially in John Adams’ Fearful Symmetries (from 18 August).
Over 1900 performers will take part in the festival and it should bring in around 8 million. If you haven’t worked it out by now, Jonathan Mills’ line up is massively ambitious and absolutely packed with gems. Some performances are sold out, so book urgently for what’s left.