Classical: An embarrassment of operatic riches

With its focus on Verdi and Schiller, the Edinburgh Festival has at last proved it is a worthy home to lyric theatre.

IF OPERA is the flagship of any international festival, as we are told, then Edinburgh is now in good shape after almost ceasing to exist a few years ago. This year there are six operas (three in concert performance) featuring works by Verdi and Smetana.

The Verdi theme arose from the Royal Opera's ability to offer three works based on plays by Schiller. Why not present these operas, together with performances of the Schiller plays that form their background? In the event, to Don Carlos, I masnadieri and Luisa Miller was added a scratch performance of Giovanna d'Arco, so there was a complete inventory of Verdi's Schiller operas.

Don Carlos stood out as a staggering achievement. It ran for almost five hours, but every minute was enthralling. Luc Bondy's Covent Garden production was nimbly revived by Patrick Young, and the stately, colourful Karita Mattila as Elisabeth dominated the scene. Julian Gavin, as Carlos, fielded a boyish, vulnerable tenor, balanced by the vast bass of Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Philip and the heroic baritone of Thomas Hampson as Rodrigue. Bernard Haitink conducted a bell-like, sonorous Royal Opera Orchestra, enjoying the miraculous acoustic of the Festival Theatre.

I masnadieri, by comparison, is musical hokum, but it was convincingly staged by Elijah Moshinsky, with picture-postcard costumes and slightly abstract sets by Paul Brown. In this adaptation of The Robbers, the dominant figure was the Russian singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the wicked Francesco, a classic sneering baddy, his dark tone flowing with prodigious abundance.

Sometimes a concert performance can free the artists to give more than is possible when they are gesturing, sitting, embracing or fighting; everyone faces front and has the support of a score, and there is no producer's blocking to remember. Luisa Miller, given in concert, was totally electric. The overall vitality came largely from Mark Elder's spirited conducting, but the commanding Paata Burchuladze as Walter and the light-toned, agile Fiorella Burato as Luisa kept the excitement high. The tenor Ignacio Encinas as Rodolfo became too excited and sang occasionally sharp; but it almost seemed like a good fault, a sign of the sparkling effervescence which permeated everything.

To complete the Schiller canon, Richard Armstrong with the Scottish Opera Orchestra, the Festival Chorus and a mixed assortment of soloists gave a concert version of one of Verdi's rarely-heard early works, Giovanna d'Arco. It had, perhaps, been put together in a hurry. Anthony Michaels- Moore was a warm and sincere Giacomo, but the firm-toned Zvetelina Vassileva as Joan of Arc was sometimes flat, and the Carlo (the tenor Jean-Francis Monvoisin) had a synthetic, tightly-focused sound which proved trying to the ear. The chorus were lukewarm and dreary. A pity, this, for Giovanna d'Arco contains some of the young Verdi's best music.

The linking of Verdi and Schiller is just the kind of thing you can do at a big festival, and two of these performances were of real festival standard, benchmarks for any opera company in the world. Equally festive were the two concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the Usher Hall.

Even if it lacked Bryn Terfel, who was forced to withdraw at the last moment, Beethoven's mighty "Choral" Symphony plucked sounding glory from the fury of battle. Claudio Abbado made no attempt to seek out the levels of sadness and defeat which can sometimes be found hidden in this gigantic score. On the other hand, the maestro's reading of Brahms's Third Symphony was absolutely supreme. The capacious breadth with which the violins swept into the first movement, the sad beauty that closed the slow movement, the songful mezza voce of the Allegretto - these were simply not human, but divine. Somehow, this special orchestra manages to dissolve its army of temperamental generals into a unison of perfect discipline.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable