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Edinburgh Festival: daunting in its rich variety. Generous sampling undertaken by critic

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THE annual Edinburgh Festival claims to be the largest arts gala in the world, and that isn't too difficult to believe. Coverage of the main festival, alone, by anything less than a busload of critics (a dire thought) is impossible. And the unofficial fringe events, with 900 shows in 100 locations, need an army. So the festivalgoer here is forced to make a hopeful choice from the program, add a few extras in the course of the event that someone says you mustn't miss, stray into a fringe event or two, regret missing half-a-dozen productions everyone else is raving about, and feel at the end of it all as though he's had enough culture and entertainment in three weeks to last him a lifetime -- or at least until next year.

This year's program, the 40th, included:

A Chinese Magical Circus with balancing acts beyond belief.

Verdi's ``A"ida'' in Swedish with no anachronistic elephants.

``Medea'' by Euripides in Japanese.

``Hamlet'' set in the 18th century.

An expressionistic modern dance about Poland by the London Festival Ballet.

Juggling and patter by the American ``Flying Karamazov Brothers.''

Vigorous portraits from Scotland's ``Golden Age.''

Artful Japanese marionettes, presented by a company founded in 1660.

Strindberg's ``Miss Julie'' directed by Ingmar Bergman.

The Maly Theatre of Leningrad in an opera about Mary, Queen of Scots.

And that's just a sampling.

Each festival has a theme. This year it was the Scottish Enlightenment, described as an ``extraordinary outburst of intellectual activity'' in the latter part of the 18th century. Several exhibitions hung their coats on this peg, ``A Hotbed of Genius'' being perhaps the central and most informative -- though a rather bookish -- one. ``Painting in Scotland: The Golden Age,'' telling one aspect of the same story, did its job more impressively.

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