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Edinburgh Explodes With Festival Events

The city's theaters, cafes, and basements are chockablock with international visitors

A VISITOR sporting a backpack arrives in Edinburgh. ``So this is the Scottish capital,'' he exclaims. A while later, however, he is heard muttering: ``And I haven't seen a Scot yet.''

This did not really happen. It was a cartoon in the Herald, Glasgow's newspaper. But when it ran last week, it made a point. Even before the start of the 1994 Edinburgh International Festival (Aug. 14 to Sept. 3), the city was knee-deep in visitors.

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The cartoon also touched on a persistent suspicion that this city's annual gigantic jamboree of events both cultural and entertaining (and some complain it has become too entertaining and not cultural enough) is in rather than of Edinburgh.

The place is taken over, not just by the main festival itself, but by an ever-enlarging ``fringe,'' boasting 9,229 performers this year.

It is probably an exaggeration to suggest that the inhabitants all go scampering into their burrows for the duration. But it is true that Edinburgh is not her usual placid self at festival time.

This year marks the event's first use of Edinburgh's new Festival Theatre, a large prestigious venue long needed for major opera, theater, and dance. But this theater, in spite of its name, does not belong to the festival.

Indeed, its manager has fought a fierce battle with the festival to obtain what Brian McMaster, now in his third year as director of the official festival, is quoted as calling ``the best possible deal out of us.'' An ``amicable agreement'' between lawyers for the two sides was reached only five days before the festival kicked off.

Such background peculiarities, however, are not likely to concern most festivalgoers, and Mr. McMaster is already being congratulated for what promises to be one of the most stimulating lineups of music, dance, drama, and opera in years.

In previous festivals, the program has tended to give disproportionate attention to one of these arts. But not this year. Music and opera

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Music highlights include performances by various orchestras and different musicians of all nine Beethoven symphonies, his five piano concertos, and many of his piano sonatas and string quartets. The Cleveland Orchestra plans to play Hindemith's ``Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Weber.''

Opera highlights also include Beethoven: The first festival production in the new theater today is the Scottish Opera's production of ``Fidelio.'' It will be repeated on Aug. 17 as the climax of ``Fidelio Day.'' Throughout this day all the works associated with the 11-year process of perfecting this opera will be performed.

A reportedly enchanting production of Benjamin Britten's ``A Midsummer Night's Dream'' marks the Australian Opera's debut at the festival. Two operas by 19th-century French composer Emmanuel Chabrier will be performed by Britain's Opera North.


Drama highlights include Goethe's ``Torquato Tasso,'' an account of the Italian poet's life, translated and directed by Robert David MacDonald of Glasgow's Citizens Theatre.

Two Shakespeares - ``The Winter's Tale'' and ``Antony and Cleopatra'' - are brought to Edinburgh by a French and a German company, respectively, the latter being the Berliner Ensemble formed by Bertolt Brecht in 1949.

Non-English versions of Shakespeare have long been festival specialties. They can be fascinatingly original and visually unforgettable. There is, however, a certain eccentricity in the use of subtitles or simultaneous translation into English.

Free from such paradoxes - because wordless - is another play from Berlin, Peter Handke's ``The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other.'' Set as a parade, the play consists of over 400 characters acted by 33 actors.

Last year a production of ``Bluebeard's Castle'' by the director-designer Robert Lepage from Quebec made an indelible impression, and this year he is back with the world premiere of an ``epic ensemble work for the stage'' called ``The Seven Streams of the River Ota.'' The seven streams run under Hiroshima.


Dance at this festival looks as if it will more than compensate for slightly disappointing programs in recent years. The companies featured, mainly from the United States, seem likely to satisfy a wide range of tastes - from Balanchine classics performed by the Miami City Ballet to Merce Cunningham's Company, re- turning after far too long an absence, with a program consisting of ``Cargo X'' and ``Enter.'' This modern master's unpredictible experimentalism and inventiveness now include computerized choreography. I can't wait.

Mark Morris is coming to his third successive festival, this time with his large-scale work choreographed to Handel's musical interpretation of Milton's pastoral poems, ``L'allegro, il pensieroso, ed il moderato.'' I really can't wait.

And I am not without impatience, either, to see ``La Vita'' choreographed and designed by Canadian Jean-Pierre Perreault and to witness Lucinda Childs's company making its British debut.

The fringe

This gives only a hint of the main festival offerings - and no hint at all of the fringe's. This year's program is particularly plump. The choices are as bewildering as ever: How on earth does one choose between ``Tokyo Shock Boys, Japan's outrageous answer to the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow'' and the ``disturbing and stylish ... gothic horror in a contemporary setting'' called ``The Damnation of Declan McReady'' performed by Acetate Squirrel?

In among the multiple daftnesses can be found a fair degree of sincere effort and even serious ambition - school plays, youth musicals or orchestras, university drama societies, or ``The Demarco European Art Foundation.'' Richard Demarco has, with an idealism undimmed by chronic financial catastrophe, relentlessly presented his own distinctly alternative versions of the Edinburgh International Festival for nearly 30 years.

One could do worse than start by perusing his list. Or one could look for famous names - Eartha Kitt, for example, as Molly Bloom, at the Church Hill Theatre. Or Greg Proops improvising in the Assembly Rooms. Or - if you have children - there are some 45 shows geared specifically to young people.

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