Opera dream nears fruition: David Lister reports on the artistic opportunities offered by Edinburgh's new theatre

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND'S long-cherished dream of an international opera house in the centre of Edinburgh will be realised within two years and will change the face of the city's annual festival, Brian McMaster, the festival's new director, said yesterday.

He said that the 100-year-old Empire Theatre, at present being rebuilt in a pounds 20m venture involving Edinburgh District Council and other public and private bodies, would be renamed the Edinburgh Festival Theatre and would be open in time for the 1994 festival. Serving as an opera house and musical theatre, the 1,800-seat building will have a stage area larger than that of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, central London, and three times the size of Edinburgh's other theatres.

Mr McMaster said: 'This gives me the challenge to take the Edinburgh Festival on to a whole new level. To have a theatre into which one can invite any company in the world is something my predecessors would have given their right arms to have.'

For years, festival directors have been prevented from inviting some of the world's top companies because theatres in Edinburgh were not large enough. This year it was hoped to attract the German director Peter Stein, and his production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, but he pulled out for that very reason.

However, the theatre will be one of the few international opera houses not to have a resident company. Both Scottish Opera and Scottish ballet have refused to move from Glasgow, so the theatre will serve as a receiving house for touring companies.

The theatre will complete a cultural uplift for the city centre. This year's festival has seen the opening of the new Traverse Theatre. In the 1960s it was Britain's first fringe theatre. The building is a stylish glass drum with two auditoria on different levels, a large designer-furnished bar and a vast atrium. The Labour-controlled district council contributed pounds 3.2m to the project.