Edinburgh Festival FADOS; MARIA DEL MAR BONET Edinburgh Festival Theatre

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The Independent Culture
As part of its Iberian weekend, the Edinburgh Festival presented two very different events: an evening of Fados, the characteristically Portuguese form of song; and a concert given by Maria del Mar Bonet, who was replacing the indisposed veteran singer Charvela Vargas. The juxtaposition was pointed but unfortunate.

Nothing could have prepared me for the extraordinary emotional impact of the Fados. The concert lasted only 80 minutes, but, after a standing ovation, the audience was left ecstatic, transported. At one point, during the second item, sung by Carlos Zel, I wondered briefly whether its subject was identified in the programme: was it perhaps a light-hearted tribute to a particular area of Lisbon, or a farewell to life? Then I noticed that my cheeks were wet. It would be hard to exaggerate the emotional impact of these songs. There was no theatre or overt emotionalism; or, rather, it was insidious, because it was so intensely felt, exquisitely played and performed with ruthlessly tempered passion.

All five men wore dark suits and ties; the great Argentina Santos wore first black, then navy blue. Mostly she remained stationary. Occasionally, she adjusted her black shawl. She walked with care. Her voice seemed the triumphant union of life and art, capable of astounding rawness and the most intimate fil di voce. The instrumentalists were led by Pedro Caldeira Cabral, playing the pear-shaped guitarra portuguesa, sounding just a bit like a zither. The programme allowed him to show off his capacities, and those of his instrument. At one point, he even took us a long way away from Fados, in a challenging, dissonant composition of his own.

The next night, my eyes remained resolutely dry. Maria del Mar Bonet is a successful recording artist, who ranges in song from her native Catalan as far as Greece and Turkey. Unfortunately, the over-elaborate orchestrations and monotonously loud delivery made for a deadly sameness: muzak as predictable and as bland as supermarket hummus. A recording of the sea breaking on a shore filled the auditorium before the concert, but didn't help. Even when Maria del Mar sang unaccompanied, there seemed to be no danger, no immediacy in the sound. Whether she portrayed a goldfinch that has lost its happiness, or compared leaving one's homeland to the parting of lovers, whether she pleaded to be left to sleep in the bullrushes, told of "the effect of tensions around government elections" or advised that "relinquishing pleasure can lead to an empty death", none of it mattered a jot.

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