THE vibrant yellow and black hand-scrawled capitals that brought a fresh new look the Edinburgh International Festival in 2016 remain the visual identity of the Festival in 2017, but much else in Fergus Linehan's third programme is looking back much further, to the very beginnings of the event as a healing balm for war-torn Europe in 1947. The festival director points out that it could hardly be a more apposite time to look to the founding principles of the event, and a belief in the civilising effect of a common cultural identity and the importance of celebration as respite from the ugliness that had gone before. "We are in a very strange socio-political environment at the moment," he adds. "Celebrating the Festival's 70th anniversary has become more pointed as it got closer. It is very far from being a florid empty gesture."
Events that are specifically linked to the birthday are helpfully marked with a black-on-yellow "70" in the new brochure, but it is not the only anniversary, with the centenary of the Russian Revolution and the 70th anniversary of Partition in India also being marked, as well as the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi, one of the creators of opera, three of whose works have directed concert performances in the Usher Hall, with Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.
They are part of the biggest programme of opera the Festival has mounted in many years, defying both the naysayers who complain about the comparative deficiency in the art-form compared with the Festival's earliest days, and Linehan's own assertion that resources are not available to meet those expectations. For the first time in many years, the Festival has a opera company in residence, with Teatro Regio from Turin in Italy and conductor Gianandrea Noseda bringing both a new production of Verdi's Macbeth, which was the first opera performed at the first Festival, and Puccini's La Boheme, which was premiered at the Turin opera house in 1896. The opera orchestra and chorus also give an Usher Hall concert of Verdi's Requiem. A revival of Mark-Anthony Turnage's opera version of Steven Berkoff's Greek is the first opera of the 2017 programme and also celebrates the Festival's history, as it was co-commissioned by EIF and first seen in the UK at the 1988 festival. The new staging is a co-production by Opera Ventures and Scottish Opera, whose music director Stuart Stratford conducts.
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Founder and conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra Ivan Fischer returns once more to Edinburgh with another of his own stagings of Mozart, Don Giovanni, and the Festival's concert performances of Wagner's Ring continues with Die Walkure, performed by the RSNO under Sir Andrew Davis with Bryn Terfel as Wotan and Karen Cargill as Fricka. Stuart Skelton is Peter Grimes and Erin Wall is Ellen Orford in a concert performance of the Benjamin Britten opera by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Edward Gardner.
The orchestral concert programme also begins with a nod to 1947, as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony, which was also the first work in the first concert of the first festival. The SCO also closes the event as usual with the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert which this year majors on Scottish music, opening with Sir James MacMillan's ceilidh-flavoured Stomp and closing with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's piper-garnished An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise. MacMillan is on the podium for a concert with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra of British works that were premiered a the Festival over its 70 years, including his own trumpet concerto Epiclesis, and the SSO is conducted by Martyn Brabbins for the final Usher Hall concert, on August 27, which is a celebration of music associated with the Festival, opening with the Edinburgh Overture, composed by Sir Arthur Bliss for the tenth anniversary.
As well as a resident opera company, the Festival has a resident playwright in Edinburgh-domiciled Zinnie Harris, whose retelling of the Oresteia of Aeschylus, This Restless House, is revived after first being seen, in Dominic Hill's production, at Glasgow Citizens' last year. Harris has also made a new version of Eugene Ionesco's 1959 play Rhinoceros, which will be a collaboration between the Royal Lyceum and DOT Theatre of Istanbul, and she premieres a new play, Meet Me At Dawn, inspired by the Orpheus and Eurydice story, at the Traverse, directed by the theatre's artistic director Orla O'Loughlin. The Old Vic theatre company, which featured in the 1947 Festival programme, returns this year with a vast new six-hour, two-part work by playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Entitled The Divide, it imagines a dystopian future in which men and women are forced to live apart because of the effects of a fatal disease. The Festival also returns to the Church Hill Theatre, with work by Scotland's acclaimed Vox Motus Company and Michael Colgan directing Barry McGovern in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, and presents two small-scale shows in the Festival Theatre Studio, from artist Martin Creed and Tim Etchells's Forced Entertainment, while cabaret artist Meow Meow follows Alan Cumming into the late night slot at The Hub with her version of The Little Mermaid.
The dance programme in August features a return by Nederlands Dans Theater with choreography by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot to music by Philip Glass and Max Richter, and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Rosas company with Rain, danced to Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. The Edinburgh Playhouse dance presentations are completed by an "unwrapping " of the Carmen story by contemporary flamenco dance-maker Maria Pages in Yo, Carmen, while the Church Hill Theatre has a family dance show from Spain, Vuelos, and hip-hop comes to the Lyceum in Blak Whyte Gray.
The Festival's free public opening event is this year entitled Bloom and will take over an entire precinct of the city to celebrate the "platform for the flowering of the human spirit" that the Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1947, Sir John Falconer, described the first Festival as being. Full details of this promenade event through installations created once again by 59 Productions will follow in months to come.
The 70th Edinburgh International Festival runs from August 4. Priority booking opened yesterday [March 15] and the box office is open to everyone from March 25. eif.co.uk