EDINBURGH FESTIVAL 97 / REVIEWS

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL 97 / REVIEWS

Theatre

The Cherry Orchard, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

It's been called the finest Chekhov production within living memory and Brian McMaster, the Festival director, is on record as saying that when he first encountered it, it struck him as the greatest theatre he had seen to date, bar none. Peter Stein's Cherry Orchard has, however, been in existence, on and off, since 1989 and in Edinburgh, where it tonight makes its final appearance, it comes over as monumental but disappointingly unmercurial - and Chekhov without impulsive spontaneity is like, well, Torville and Dean without skates.

The beauty of the staging is, I should imagine, undimmed. Towards the end of the first act, for example, the curtains of the Gayev nursery are pulled back and there, behind the huge window at a heart-stopping tilt to the interior, is a vision of unearthly loveliness - the cherry orchard in profuse white bloom under early-morning sunshine. Well might Jutta Lampe's Ranyevskaya imagine for a moment that she sees the ghost of her mother walking through this other-worldly landscape.

A magical blurring of the objective and the subjective, the spectacle brings home to you just why the Gayevs can't bear to part with their orchard and perhaps modifies your sense of their irritating fecklessness and inertia. The downside of making the orchard so visually prominent is that, if you happen to be sitting in the dress circle, you are treated to the sight of stage hands uprooting and carting off the trees in preparation for Act 2 - the orchard farcically suffering its fate just a tad ahead of schedule.

Throughout, the staging has a wonderful spare imaginative precision. The three double communicating doors through which we espy the cavorting revellers in the party scene allows for a thrilling moment when, with brutal insouciance, a line of high-spirited dancers burst through the downstage room where Ranyevskaya is grieving at the loss of the estate.

But, unlike a recent French-Romanian Three Sisters that ended with Natasha giving birth to the Soviet Army, this Cherry Orchard does not let hindsight inflict too much foresight on Chekhov's play. Having bought the very estate on which his forefathers were serfs, Daniel Friedrich's excellent Lopakhin staggers round in a very human daze of embarrassment and triumphalist elation. One moment, he's pulling his coat over his head like a child who wants to be "invisible", the next he's asserting ownership by crashing drunkenly into walls and cavalierly knocking down candelabras. Only at the very end does his exasperation with the Gayevs suddenly look drained of its former affection.

So what am I complaining about? Simply that too much of the production is willed and mechanical: well nigh all of the physical farce suffers from the deadly deliberateness of actors remembering to have accidents. The mixed moods are often leaden with calculation. Take those drunken hiccups that here puncture, with humour-free persistence, the poignant meditative silence that descends for what feels like for ever over the Gayev household as they sit on their luggage waiting to depart.

I note that Roland Schafer played the upstart Frenchified footman Yasha at the 1989 premiere. He's getting a bit long in the tooth to be playing a young man on the make now. To keep the age differential, the ancient retainer Firs would have to be presented pickled, Damien Hirst-style, in a cabinet. How I wish I'd seen this production in its first flush of youth. Final performance: 7pm tonight. Booking: 0131-473 2000

Paul Taylor

Opera

Die Walkure Act 3, Usher Hall

Brian McMaster, the Festival director, must be thanking his stars for an extraordinary run of good luck. Many of the events have been sell-outs, and there has been a run of warm, sunny weather, unusual for Scotland, with a perfect clear evening for the Fireworks Concert. Even apparent misfortunes have been turned to the Festival's advantage. First, the loss of the Royal Opera's production of Macbeth led to a concert performance that was, after all, one of this year's great occasions. Next, Bryn Terfel, one of the biggest stars in this year's pantheon, fell ill, putting Thursday's concert performance of Act 3 of Wagner's Die Walkure into doubt. Luckily John Tomlinson, Bayreuth's greatest Wotan of recent times, was secured to replace him. And this led to another revelation, a vision of the father- god that was towering, vivid, and essentially personal. It was one of those performances that ran into a massive wall of applause and cheering at its close.

It was not merely that Tomlinson was able to repeat his Bayreuth triumph. He gave us an essentially new Wotan, less the tender father moved to grief by a need to punish, than a desperate, panicked figure, almost paranoiac in his misery. Where Hans Hotter - and Tomlinson himself, once upon a time - melted into affectionate nostalgia ("Wunschmaid warst du mir," "You were my wish-maiden," he says to Brunnhilde), this new Wotan sang with savage irony, leading to the most brutal mockery as he consigned her to any man who might want her, spitting out the harsh consonants of the stabreim. Finally, his tender farewell to the lost daughter was tinged with wretchedness: someone freer than I shall have her, "freier als ich, der Gott", gasped breathlessly in a last hopeless surrender. It somehow captured all the sadness in the world.

Jane Eaglen ought to have been the perfect foil for this, for her Brunnhilde, seen in Glasgow and Chicago, was always human, soft, womanly; her purity of tone, pearly and sweet in soft passages, used to rise to an electric brilliance in the high register. But this was not Eaglen's best night. The seductive tenderness was still there, but low notes sounded oddly covered, and there was insufficient breadth for her last words of defiance, the orchestra clamouring to second her angry taunts. There was still plenty of woman in this interpretation, but not much valkyrie.

The other singers were astonishingly good: eight rousing valkyries, and a Sieglinde (Adrianne Pieczonka) who could have taken over the part of Brunnhilde at a moment's notice, and whose tone, indeed, somewhat resembled Eaglen's. The conductor, Antonio Pappano, is an exhilarating new kid on the Wagnerian block. He puts aside the traditional interest in expressive detail, leitmotiv, shape and contour, in favour of an impetuous excitement and a tonal splendour which suited the "Ride of the Valkyries" well. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra usually avoided being pulled off their feet. A night for fireworks, indeed.

Raymond Monelle

Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on TV
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
News
Brand said he
people
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit