Verdi: Requiem, Usher Hall, Edinburgh<br></br>Curlew River, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh *** / ****

Bow down in the face of this brilliant madness
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But much of the tone in this piece is set by the mezzo soloist, and Leandra Overmann dominated. She has a rich voice of great range: two voices, really, for her lower notes sound like a tenor, while higher up she turns into a dramatic soprano, stagey and heavily projected, similar to her soprano colleague, Violeta Urmana. Singing together in the "Agnus Dei", they sounded like lovers, tenor and soprano.

There was no room for mystical visions. Overmann's "Lux Aeterna" had fire rather than light. Everybody else had to follow suit. The tenor, Salvatore Licitra, hollered ringingly but found it hard to sing quietly, and nearly wrecked the ensembles. Only the magnificent bass, John Relyea, was hieratic and authoritative. All in all, they would have been a good line-up for Aida.

The conductor, Donald Runnicles, followed Nelson's dictum that you should never mind manoeuvres - just go straight at 'em. The opening was quiet, the "Dies Irae" loud and fast. Finally, the only glimpses of another world were provided by Urmana. Verdi gave her a final moment of glory in the "Libera Me", where her tormented recitative led to a sweet landscape of peace and ecstasy.

Edinburgh has many churches, but Britten's church parable Curlew River was performed in the Royal Lyceum Theatre, an irredeemably proscenium building that made the processions, the intimacy, the medieval ambience hard to achieve. Instead, the director, Olivier Py, went for a highly picturesque and projected version, centred on an outstanding personification of the Madwoman by the tenor Toby Spence.

This young singer had the hectic semi-falsetto, the grotesque movement and the intensity of many an operatic madwoman, his long, off-the-shoulder dress and black wig suggesting an old-fashioned diva. The paraphernalia of a Japanese stage was replaced by a framework of pillars and staircases that were moved and adapted for the different scenes.

The effect was electrifying, elemental.Spence's performance may turn out to be the most memorable event of the Festival.

'Curlew River' ends today (0131 473 2000)

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