Elektra, Usher Hall <BR/> Weill Operas, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

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The Independent Culture

Ernestine Schumann-Heink, who sang Klytemnestra at the premiere of Strauss's Elektra in 1909, said afterwards that there was "nothing beyond" this work. Opera had been about singing, about music, about charm. But you can't hear the singers in Elektra, and the music has been blown apart into a frenzy of dissonance, she thought.

Perhaps that made it appropriate for the opening concert of the 2006 Edinburgh International Festival, for this is the festival director Sir Brian McMaster's final year.

In a storming contest of voices and orchestra, the principals gave their all. Most extraordinary was Leandra Overmann in Schumann-Heink's role. She threw away all scruples, howling and barking from the vast resources of her two voices, a broad mezzo-soprano and, in effect, a dramatic tenor. It was all passion and drama, wild, insane, terrifying.

Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet had the title part. She, too, had huge range, but with a greater variety of expressions; controlled and grim, later panicked, surreal, body snaking with a vile charm. Silvana Dussmann was a more restrained Chrysothemis, though with plenty of fire. Iain Paterson was a noble Orestes, Ian Storey a plausible Aegisthus. At the centre of the maelstrom - the Royal Scottish National Orchestra at their unbuttoned best - Edward Gardner was triumphantly in charge.

Two Kurt Weill pieces the following evening, by the Opéra National de Lyon, went for spectacle, for these were stage productions at the Festival Theatre. The Lindbergh Flight was visually striking, backed by a map of the Atlantic over which the aviator - sung by Charles Workman - flew.

The other work, the "ballet chanté" The Seven Deadly Sins, was also performed in front of a map, this time the United States, where its twin girl protagonists pursued their seamy career.

This, too, was spectacular, the part of Anna II taken by seven dancers, one for each sin. Their counterpart Anna I (Gun-Brit Barkmin) is an opera singer who made herself a cabaret artist for the evening. François Girard's direction was brilliant; but had the satire been sold out to visual impact?

Weill Operas end tonight (0131-473 2000)