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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

    Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?