this year, has grown up to become the world's largest - and busiest - arts event. Rio may have its Carnival, and Cannes its Palme d'Or, but nothing can compare with Edinburgh's infinite variety. This year, the Fringe alone offers 646 companies and 1,301 different shows; then there's the International Festival, the Jazz Festival, the Film Festival, the Military Tattoo ... It's a daunting prospect - but fear not: our critics have done your homework, and, over the next few pages, they guide you to the pick of this year's events
Opening Concert (Usher Hall, 0131 225 5756, Sun 11 Aug). Runaway son of Scotland Donald Runnicles returns to conduct Beethoven's 9th.
Bryn Terfel (Usher Hall, 0131 225 5756, 15 Aug). The big Welsh baritone, singing through his recital repertoire with Malcolm Martineau.
Evgeny Kissin (Usher Hall, 0131 225 5756, 16 Aug). Simply the best young pianist in the world, playing Beethoven and Schumann.
New York Philharmonic (Usher Hall, 0131 225 5756, 17 & 18 Aug). On tour with the dour Kurt Masur.
War Requiem (Usher Hall, 0131 225 5756, 19 Aug). Britten's ear-breaking 1960s masterpiece: always an event.
Gurrelieder (Usher Hall, 0131 225 5756, 21 Aug). Claudio Abbado takes the young players of his Gustav Mahler Jungendorchester through Schoenberg's epic of late Romanticism.
Andras Schiff (Usher Hall, 0131 225 5756, 22 Aug). One of the greatest of living pianists plays both of Brahms' Piano Concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Ian Bostridge (Queen's Hall, 0131 225 5756, 23 Aug). Outstanding young British Lieder-tenor in Schubert's Winterreise with Graham Johnson.
Frans Bruggen (Usher Hall, 0131 225 5756, 27 & 28 Aug). Charismatic king of period performance conducting his Orchestra of the 18th Century in a clutch of Haydn symphonies.
Cleveland Orchestra (Usher Hall, 0131 225 5756, 29 & 30 Aug). Christoph von Dohnanyi conducts America's number one orchestra in Beethoven and Mahler.
Harry Hill (Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, Fri to 25 Aug; Queen's Hall, 0131 668 2019, 24 Aug). Secure in the knowledge that David Letterman is now using his jokes, the uncrowned king of the Edinburgh Festival returns with his '96 Comeback Special. The guarantee of an hour of new material from the nation's finest comic mind would be excitement enough, but a guest appearance from Stouffer the Cat is also promised.
Jenny Eclair (Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, Fri to 25 Aug; Queen's Hall, 0131 668 2019, 23 Aug). The window of post-Perrier opportunity has had the odd streak on it for this particular peroxide powerhouse. The chance to peddle her own brand of bespoke smut to a room full of drunk people should come as a welcome respite from those long nights dispensing sex advice on the satellite channel UK Living.
Phil Kay (Gilded Balloon, 0131 226 2151, 18 & 19, 26-31 Aug). Seemingly more interested in his child and his dog than being Britain's most spontaneous comedian, the extravagantly gifted Kay comes out of self-imposed retirement for eight nights only.
Bill Bailey (Assembly, 0131 226 2428, Fri to 31 Aug). Amiable guitar- toting metaphysicist rewrites musical history to entirely beguiling effect.
Dave Gorman (Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, Wed to 31 Aug). By some distance the most polished newcomer on the comedy circuit, Gorman already has a Bafta on his mantlepiece courtesy of his co-writer's credit on the Mrs Merton Show, and it will be intriguing to see how he expands his impeccably dry stand-up persona to fill a whole hour.
Sir Bernard Chumley's Gangshow (Assembly Rooms, 0131 226 2428, Fri to 31 Aug). Thespian avenger Chumley - aka Shooting Stars' George Dawes, aka sewer-minded wunderkind Matt Lucas - has yet to come up with the perfect vehicle for his uniquely scabrous talent. Perhaps this will be it.
Thea Vidale (Meadows Starr Tent, 0131 668 4918, Fri to 31 Aug). For those who find Tina Turner a little too understated for their tastes, this resplendently unquiet American returns to the city she overran in 1993.
Ardal O'Hanlon (Gilded Balloon, 0131 226 2151, Fri to 31 Aug). The genial shaman dismounts the Father Ted rollercoaster and boards his solo stand- up conveyance. His destination is the stars.
Rich Hall (Gilded Balloon, 0131 226 2151, Fri to 31 Aug). Dessicated frontiersman. On a good night, there are few better performers.
Lee & Herring Live (Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, Fri to 25 Aug; Queen's Hall, 0131 668 2019, 25 Aug). The people who brought you "Ian News" threaten more astounding feats of mental agility. That "Live" is a bit cheeky though: presumably all the other acts listed are somehow less "live" by virtue of not having their own TV shows.
Orlando (Royal Lyceum, 0131 225 5756, 13-17, 19-21 Aug). Miranda Richardson plays the Elizabethan boy who becomes a 20th-century woman in American director Robert Wilson's highly imagistic adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel.
Elsinore: Variations on Shakespeare's Hamlet (King's, 0131 225 5756, 12-16 Aug). Created, directed and performed by Robert Lepage, the Canadian director and specialist in multi-media effects, who uses technological wizadry to bring new perspectives.
The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) (Assembly Rooms, 0131 226 2428, Fri to 31 Aug). After The Complete Works of Shakespeare, the dauntlessly ambitious Reduced Shakespeare Company turn the Bible into a 90-minute laugh. Make the Final Judgement yourself.
Uncle Vanya (King's, 0131 225 5756, 29-31 Aug). Masterly German director Peter Stein - who put the cherry blossom so luxuriantly back into The Cherry Orchard - directs an Italian cast in another atmospheric Chekhov.
Shining Souls (Traverse, 0171 228 1404, Wed to 31 Aug). Chris Hanna's new play centres on a young Glaswegian woman choosing between two men on her wedding day. Director Ian Brown's final Traverse production.
Exquisite Sister: The Diaries of Dorothy Wordsworth (Assembly Rooms, 0131 226 2428, Fri to 31 Aug). Kelly Hunter presents her portrait of brother William and Coleridge.
The Architect (Traverse, 0131 228 1404, Tues to 31 Aug). Prolific young dramatist David Greig's latest play, about an idealistic architect who ends up designing car parks, was inspired by the urban myth that modern architects can't stand their own work.
Headstate (Graffiti, 0131 557 8330, 16-31 Aug). Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh collaborates with Scottish Touring Company Boilerhouse to create "Acid House Theatre" - a site-specific promenade performance which aims to be half-play and half-rave.
Bartleby (Theatre Workshop, 0131 226 5425, Sat to 31 Aug). Veterans of literary adaptations, Red Shift offer a minimalist version of Herman Melville's 1853 novella.
Portrait of a Woman (Traverse, 0131 228 1404, Sun 11 to 31 Aug). The excellent Communicado stage Michel Vinaver's play, based on the transcripts of a famous French trial of the 1950s, where a woman stands accused of shooting her lover in the head.
Orfeo ed Euridice (Festival Theatre, 0131 225 5756, 16, 17, 19 & 20 Aug). At last dance takes its rightful place in this sublime opera of the Enlightenment. Gluck's famous music is in the predictably sensitive hands of Chris-topher Hogwood; direction is by the unpredictable but always sensational Mark Morris.
Iphigenie auf Tauris (Festival Theatre, 0131 225 5756, 29-31 Aug). Pina Bausch's work is hard to describe without sounding ridiculous, but once seen, its physical and, yes, even spiritual effects are never forgotten. Here she directs another of Gluck's operas, conveying the grandeur and purity of the score through images of dance.
Nederlands Dans Theater (Playhouse, 0131 225 5756, 13-16 Aug). Never mind the hype of other virtuoso modern-dance companies - this is the world's number one. And this is only its third visit to Britain in 20 years. Two programmes of mainly new and recent work, all by artistic director Jiri Kylian, including his classic Symphony of Psalms.
Radical Graham (Playhouse, 0131 225 5756, 18-21 Aug). For many, "contemporary" still conjures up one name: Martha Graham. Two programmes recreate her groundbreaking work of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, danced by the company that guards her tradition. A historical landmark.
Mark Morris Dance Group (Festival Theatre, 0131 225 5756, 12-14 Aug). How long the Tarzan of dance can keep up his love-affair with Edinburgh audiences is anybody's guess. This is his fifth consecutive visit, and it's Morris who's been chosen to produce a piece to mark the 50th Festival. A work choreographed to Monteverdi madrigals is the result. And in case you thought that MM was all about music and movement, there's also Behemoth, danced to no music at all.
Legs on the Wall (Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 7-31 Aug). Red Cross ladies should be put on red alert for the company's latest exercise in body- catapulting and wall-slamming. The pretext is "a gut-wrenching exploration of family relationships". Looks more like S&M.
Mark Baldwin Dance Co (Famous Grouse House, 0131 220 5606, 19-24 Aug). The still-rising star of British dance presents a new programme of his quizzical choreography.
The Kosh (Gilded Balloon, 0131 226 2151, Fri to 31 Aug). A tempestuous double act always worth catching. In Endangered Species - The Revue, passion and hysteria find an outlet in the duo's typically acerbic blend of dance, cabaret and theatre.
Compagnie Yvette Bozsik (Dundee Rep Theatre, Tay Square, Dundee, 01382 223530, 20-24 Aug). This award-laden company from Budapest should reward the detour. Its mesmerising physical vocabulary is on display in two new works, including a piece called The Miraculous Mandarin, presumably a new setting of Bartok's violently compelling ballet score.
Rhythms of the Celts (The Waverley, Market St, 0131 220 4349, Fri to 18 Aug). Couldn't afford a ticket to Riverdance? Then catch this dance tribute to Braveheart, Rob Roy and other cult Celt-fests starring Tracey Taaffe (formerly of Riverdance) with a company of 30 other escapees.
Gil Scott-Heron (Queen's Hall, 0131 668 2019, Sat). On a good night, the jazz poet, singer-pianist and political commentator can still send a shiver down the spine with a repertoire of songs that mix acute social observation with stirring soul and funk grooves and sensitive melodies. And if it's not a good night? Well, he's still sure to play "The Bottle".
Craig McMurdo (Queen's Hall, 0131 668 2019, 19 Aug). Tongue-in-cheek cabaret crooner and dancer - with a retro-styled set of lounge-lizard laments calling on Burt Bacharach, Dean Martin and Louis Prima - celebrates 10 years on the Fringe.
Whose Solo is It Anyway? (Grouse House, 0131 220 5606, 20-25 Aug). Intriguing musical quiz, based on you can guess what, and moving to Edinburgh after two successful years as part of the Glasgow Jazz Festival. Two teams of musicians - including Scots stars Tom and Phil Bancroft, Greater London's favourite guitarist (and nephew to the ex-Bishop of Durham) Billy Jenkins, Tommy Smith and many more - improvise hot licks in a variety of styles at the drop of a hat.
Carol Kidd (Queen's Hall, 0131 668 2019, 30 Aug). Another Festival veteran, the Scottish singer of intimate supper-club jazz launches her tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with a trawl through the classic songbooks.
Fidelio (Usher Hall, 0131 225 5756, 12 Aug). Concert performance under Charles Mackerras, with Gabriela Benackova and Anthony Rolfe Johnson.
Orfeo ed Euridice (Festival Theatre, 0131 225 5756, 16, 17, 19 & 20 Aug). Period playing meets radical dance in a collaboration between Christopher Hogwood and Mark Morris.
Ines de Castro (Festival Theatre, 0131 225 5756, 23 & 25 Aug). Premiere of a new work by James MacMillan, the most emotionally impactful of young British composers.
Iphigenie auf Tauris (Festival Theatre, 0131 225 5756, 29-31 Aug). Another dancing opera, joint-ventured by Pina Bausch and Scottish forces. Christine Brewer sings Gluck's eponymous heroine.
Four Saints in Three Acts (Playhouse, 0131 225 5756, 29-31 Aug). The Virgil Thomson / Gertrude Stein classic, in a Robert Wilson production from Houston Grand Opera.
Velzquez in Seville (National Gallery of Scotland, 0131 556 8921, Thurs to 20 Oct). Essentially about the artist's early years, before he moved to Madrid in 1623. But he was capable of mature masterpieces when still in his teens. Almost all the surviving pictures from the period, plus some works by contemporaries. See Sunday Offer, Going Out, Real Life, page 14. Alberto Giacometti (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 0131 556 8921, to 22 Sept). First major retrospective in Britain since 1965: 85 sculptures, 40 paintings and lots of drawings. Essential show of the gloomy, angular master, and coming to the RA in London in the autumn. David Livingston (Royal Scottish Academy, 0131 556 8921, to 8 Oct). An eminent and obsessed Victorian encounters Africa. Superb biographical exhibition, and the catalogue is a revelatory book. George Rodger: The African Photographs (Royal Scottish Academy, 0131 556 8921, to 6 Oct). Terrific images, especially of wrestling Nuba tribesmen, by the Magnum photographer who made 15 journeys through Africa in the post-war years. Arthur Melville (Bourne Fine Art, Dundas Street, 0131 557 4050, Fri to 31 Aug). Reckoned by many to be the best watercolourist of his generation, Melville (1855-1904) was a "Glasgow boy", an explorer like his friend Stevenson and an influence on Scottish art. Coincides with a monograph by IoS contributor Iain Gale. Contemporary Chinese Painting (Fruitmarket Gallery, 0131 225 2383, Tues to 28 Sept). 15 artists in the largest show of contemporary Chinese art ever shown in Britain. A Nation Divided (National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, 0131 226 4531, to 31 Oct). A show to mark the 250th anniversary of the Jacobite rising. New analyses of the period give a fresh look at Bonnie Prince Charlie, "Butcher" Cumberland and the Battle of Culloden. Helen Chadwick (Portfolio Gallery, Candlemaker Row, 0131 220 1911, 13 Aug to 21 Sept). Memorial show for the lamented photographer/sculptor. Pride and Passion (Royal Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, 0131 225 7534, to 15 Sept). The life, times and legacy of Robert Burns, to mark the bicentenary of his death. Particularly useful to English visitors. Eduardo Paolozzi and Adrian Wiszniewski (Talbot Rice Gallery, South Bridge, 0131 650 2211, Thurs to 8 Sept). Works on paper by the older artist, new paintings and prints by the younger. Both come from Scotland.
Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival (11-25 Aug, various venues; credit-card bookings: 0131 467 8855). NB: some films do not yet have certificates. Bastard Out of Caroline (24 Aug; tickets available from 11 Aug). British premiere of Angelica Huston's directorial debut: a sensitive but disturbing story of child abuse in 1950s Carolina. Breaking the Waves (16 & 23 Aug). The second film this year from Lars Von Trier, director of The Kingdom, won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, and examines the grief of an Isle of Syke woman (Emily Watson) when her husband is paralysed. A Couch in New York (25 Aug). This gentle romantic comedy with William Hurt and Juliette Binoche swapping homes closes the festival. An extra fiver gets you to the party (pounds 15 all in). Flirting with Disaster (19 & 23 Aug). A sharp screwball-comedy-cum-road-movie about a man embarking on a search for his natural mother. Patricia Arquette, Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda and Mary Tyler Moore star; the director David O Russell continues the excav ation job on dysfuctional families which he began with Spanking the Monkey. Jude (Cert 15; 17, 18 & 24 Aug). Michael Winterbottom's film of Jude the Obscure, starring Kate Winslet and Christopher Eccleston. Book early. Lone Star (18 & 24 Aug). The respected American director John Sayles follows his whimsical drama The Secret of Roan Inish with this intelligent study of how an unsolved murder divides locals in a Texas border town. The Pillow Book (13 & 14 Aug). Peter Greenaway returns after a three-year absence, licking the wounds inflicted by critics after The Baby of Macon, with a typically sensual story of sex and calligraphy starring Trainspotting's Ewan McGregor. Scene by Scene. Actors and film- makers guide us through excerpts of their work, providing detailed commentary and analysis. Highlights include the directors David Cronenberg (13 Aug), Peter Greenaway (14 Aug) and Bernardo Bertolucci (21 Aug), documentary film-maker Nick Broomfield(22 Aug) and actress Teresa Wright (20 Aug), who starred in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. Stealing Beauty (Cert 12; 20 Aug). Bertolucci returns to Italian soil with his most sumptuous, accomplished film since The Last Emperor. Liv Tyler is the teenager whose beauty sets the men of Tuscany alight, while Jeremy Irons is the writer whose termina l illness doesn't stop him lusting after her. Trees Lounge (21 Aug). Steve Buscemi, of Fargo and Reservoir Dogs, directs his first feature, based around the lives of the regulars in a rundown bar. Buscemi stars alongside Samuel L Jackson and Kids' Chloe Sevigny.
Jools Holland (Edinburgh Playhouse, 0131 557 2590, 24 & 25 Aug). Rhythm & blues, jazz, boogie woogie, blues, and general all-round coolness from the Later star and his orchestra. Big Country (Assembly Theatre, 0131 226 2428, 11, 12, 14 & 15 Aug). The anthemic would-be Scotsmen offer a taste of their new "semi-unplugged" album, Eclectic. Too hearty and earnest for most Sassenach palates, but that didn't stop Big Country getting su pport slots on the recent Rolling Stones and Page & Plant tours. Towering Inferno (Assembly Rooms, 0131 226 2428, Fri to 29 Aug). A multi-media spectacular featuring 70 film projectors, an ear-damaging seven-piece band and a vocalist from the ethereal Mystere de Voix Bulgares. The "happening" is based on the Towering Inferno's album, Kaddish (Island), which Brian Eno described as the "most frightening record he had ever heard: on the cusp between Megadeth and Robert Wilson". Bootleg Beatles (George Square Theatre, 0131 650 2001, 12-17 Aug). They dress up as the Beatles, they play Beatles songs, and they supported fellow Beatles impersonators Oasis at Earls Court last year. Now they have taken it upon themselves to play an acoustic set, out of costume. Edinburgh Songwriters Showcase (Ceilidh House, 0131 220 1550, 6, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 Aug). Original songs, in a cosy pub. For the adventurous, Tuesdays are open-mic nights; Wednesdays are quality-controlled. !