King Rogerm, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Irvine Arditti/Rudiger Lotter, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
Soloists of the Budapest Festival, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
Budapest Festival Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Something is wrong when Dionysus looks to Take That for inspiration

Conductor Valery Gergiev has turned a chaotic schedule into gold dust, flattering audiences by pulling the rabbit out of the hat night after night, even when both rabbit and hat are still plastered with airline security stickers and in need of a serious brushing.

His approach works well enough in the concert hall, where spontaneity is at a premium. But in the opera house you need subtlety and caution, especially when the score is as opulent and complex as that of Szymanovski's psychosexual opéra à clef, King Roger.

A neurotic compote of Nietzsche, Euripides, symbolism, shimmering Orientalist melodies and homoerotic hootchie-kootchie, King Roger's fame is based on how rarely it is heard. It ends not with a bang – though there are plenty of these in Act II – but a lyrical whimper, as the king, who is both attracted and repelled by orgiastic hedonism, expires in a haze of Apollan self-abnegation. But who could blame him when all that Dionysus has to offer in terms of erotic adventure is a Take That dance routine?

Film-maker Mariusz Trelinski's Mariinsky Opera production transports King Roger from 12th-century Sicily to contemporary Eastern Europe, with Roger (Andrzej Dobber) and his queen Roxana (Elzbieta Szmytka) clad in black Versace, and the peroxide blonde Dionysus (Pavlo Tolstoy) sporting the sort of pyjamas Gary Barlow might wear on a quiet evening in.

Act I is set in a concrete cathedral, Act II in a glass-walled penthouse and Act III in a hospital ward. That psychology took second place to noise in the Edinburgh Festival performance was more Gergiev's fault than Trelinski's, but I soon ceased to care whether Roger would be as enthusiastic a swinger as his wife.

Amid the orchestral orgasms, saucy splashing of vin blanc on queenly pudendas, dry ice and fey scarf-twiddling of Edrisi (Sergey Semishur), Dobber and Szmytka looked like a working-class couple who had made their millions and found they have nothing left to talk about. Still, there was some magnificent singing to be heard over the muezzin-like oboes, angst-ridden strings and shuddering tam-tam. Dobber's sturdy, candid baritone cut through all but the most cloying orchestral writing, as did Szymtka's half-girlish, half-matronly soprano and Tolstoy's keening tenor, and the Mariinsky chorus were superb.

The mid-20th-century notion that there is a natural affinity between artists who specialise in early music and those who specialise in contemporary music has proved remarkably persistent – the implication being that neither can produce a sound good enough for core repertoire and that both play from the head. Of course, the best specialists in both fields produce a wonderful, emotionally charged sound, not that anyone listening to contemporary music maven Irvine Arditti's recital with baroque violinist Rüdiger Lotter and the buttoned-up continuo players of Lyriarte would believe me. That Berio's epigrammatic duets Béla (Bartók), Maurice (Fleuret) and Jeanne (Panni) were the only successful items of the first half was testament to Lotter's stylistic versatility. In Biber's Partia No 6, Arditti's abrasive, vinegary tone and rigid bowing were entirely at odds with Lotter's swift, light bowing and fluid decorations.

A similar lack of cohesion hung over the first Queen's Hall concert by the Soloists of the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Hummel's lovely Piano Quintet in E flat minor was a good three hours of rehearsal away from being ready for the public, and only when Jeno Jando was joined by Violetta Eckhardt, Gabor Sipos, Cecilia Bodolai and Rita Sovany for Bartok's early, Brahms-inspired Piano Quintet did that bright, searing Budapest sound ring out as it had the night before in the Festival Orchestra's thrilling performance with Ivan Fischer.

Fischer's exploration of Hungarian gypsy music as translated for the concert hall by Brahms and Liszt – then translated again by the homesick and depressed Schoenberg in his bizarre orchestral arrangement of Brahms's first Piano Quartet – began with a mordant improvisation in the 19th-century verbunkos style from violinist Jozsef Lendvay Senior and cimbalom player Oszkar Okros and closed with an authentic cat's cradle of wild quartertones. Looping from the traditional source to the orchestral score and back again, this was a fascinating, bravura programme.

Lendvay's classically-trained son, Joszef Junior played Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen with a tone and technique beyond any I have heard and joined his father in Fischer's arrangement of Brahms's Hungarian Dance No 11. In an age when Europe's orchestras are sounding increasingly homogenous, Budapest's incisive, heady timbre is unique.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power