Arts and Entertainment

Very occasionally you are lucky enough to encounter a performance in which a sort of mystical transformation takes place: when the music and the way it is performed simply embody the emotion that underlies it.

RECORDS / Double Play: Marriage of true minds: Edward Seckerson and Stephen Johnson on John Eliot Gardiner's new recording of The Marriage of Figaro

MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists / John Eliot Gardiner (Archiv 439 871-2; three CDs)

MUSIC / Off the main roads: Adrian Jack on concerts by Helene Grimaud and Bryn Terfel

Helene Grimaud looks like the girl next door but plays the piano a lot better. Her unusual choice of programme at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday was in itself a statement. It avoided the usual warhorses in favour of music of mellow expressiveness and introspection. Yet opening with Beethoven's Op 109 sonata, Grimaud made it clear she was a powerful player who could sustain long spans of music with confidence.

CLASSICAL MUSIC / Progress, after a fashion

BEDLAM arrives earlier than expected in the new Opera Factory production of The Rake's Progress. Where Stravinsky steers his Rake along a path of gradual decline that collapses into lunacy and mayhem only in the last Act, Opera Factory (steered by David Freeman at the QEH) drop him into the abyss by Scene 2: the Brothel Scene which, as anyone who knows Freeman's work might have guessed, comes with no holds barred. From then on, the Rake's world is a nightmare populated by a chorus of crazies whose wardrobe and behavioural disorders have been lifted from one of Madonna's less family-oriented videos. And yes, this is a modern-day Rake's Progress, relocated (as its painted backdrops explain) to a cardboard city on the South Bank. That the derelicts have such radical-chic dress sense is confusing; but we are, most definitely, in the fall-out from Thatcher's Britain. And it's not a pretty sight.

OPERA / Marriage on the rocks: Stephen Johnson on the current revival of Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

The cast list looked like a recipe for success. As Figaro we had Bryn Terfel, who seems to be incapable of turning in a dull performance at the moment. The tone was as robust and richly colourful, the musicianship as sensitive, and the characterisation as lively as one could have hoped. His Susanna was Sylvia McNair, fresh from her Vienna Opera triumph in this role. Like Terfel, she became the character in every dimension, the musical strength and subtlety deepening as the performance progressed.

Double Play: Heavy brigade: Stephen Johnson and Edward Seckerson review new orchestral releases

Mahler: Symphony No 7; Kindertotenlieder - Bryn Terfel (baritone), Philharmonia / Sinopoli (DG 437 851 2: two CDs)

MUSIC / Double Play: Visions of a new beginning

MACMILLAN: Veni, Veni,

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL 1993

There are more than 500 arts festivals in Britain every year, and one of them pulls in about as many spectators as all the others put together. And gets more media coverage than the others put together. However commercial it becomes, however repetitive and predictable, however tainted by links with television, and whatever other festivals do to steal its thunder, there is still something special about Edinburgh. Where else do people sleep in dormitories, in shifts, because they can't afford a room but can't bear to miss out? Where else does a show go on when only one person has turned up to see it? Where does a show go on when no one has turned up to see it? Where else can you find a festival of theatre and comedy that also offers an exhibition of perhaps the best collection of photography in the world? Where else can you find Mark Morris, Robert Wilson, Klaus Tennstedt, Sean Hughes, Hans Holbein, Jane Campion, Wynton Marsalis, Eddie Izzard, Bryn Terfel and Arthur Smith on the same bill? Where else can you find a scrum forming around a Sold Out board - people straining to see what they're not going to be able to see? It's not just an arts festival: it's a lark, an ordeal, a drinkathon, a holiday, a lot of hard work, a talent contest, a love-in, a rite of passage, an endurance test. You tell yourself you won't overdo it, and then you overdo it. It overdoes it: every year it gets bigger, starts earlier, packs more into each day. The juggler in our picture is a symbol for the whole thing: hundreds of thousands of people, trying to keep too many balls in the air. It's the same every time, and yet you never know what you'll find. A definitive guide to Edinburgh is a contradiction in terms. But the next seven pages should be of some use.

MUSIC / From a whisker to a scream

DAVID ALDEN is a stage director who strips the wardrobe of opera down to its Y-fronts: the sort of angry young-ish man whose brutal chic has opera-goers cooing masochistically (as only opera-goers can) while he disposes of the comfortable conventions of the medium and gives his audience a bit of rough. Not too much: just enough to get excited. Standard Alden sets look like a public lavatory in an advanced state of decay, lit by a single light bulb. They define a space where some atrocity has been, or is about to be, committed; and they suggest that the atrocity is opera itself - a multi- headed monster on the loose that stage directors have to fight rather than nurture. Alden, with the heightened sensitivities of someone in his line of business, hears the scream beneath the singing; and he generously amplifies it so we can hear it too.

OPERA / Through hell and high water: Das Rheingold - Chicago

Ever since Patrice Chereau put Wagner's Rhinemaidens on top of a hydro- electric dam in his famous centenary Ring cycle at Bayreuth, stage directors of Das Rheingold have been trying to outdo each other in solving the problem of Wagner's flirtatious mermaids. In the first instalment of Lyric Opera of Chicago's new cycle on Saturday, producer August Everding and designer John Conklin arrived at a particularly flamboyant solution: Rhinemaidens harnessed to a complex set of wires that allowed them to dart athletically around the stage rather like seasoned bungee-jumpers.

Classical Music Awards: Newcomer of the Year - Bryn Terfel: Artists strike triumphant note on big awards night

THE JURY took about 30 seconds on this category. 'A talent beyond imagining, a colossal singer' - thus John Eliot Gardiner, who has conducted Bryn Terfel and was accepting the award on his behalf, since he is at the moment in Chicago rehearsing Wagner's Rheingold.

MUSIC / A change for the better?: David Patrick Stearns on tradition and innovation at the Salzburg Festival

THOUGH few would dispute that the tradition-encrusted Salzburg Festival needs changing, far fewer would have ever predicted artists such as Peter Sellars, Pierre Boulez, Luc Bondy and other perpetually forward-looking artists would appear on the hallowed soil once trodden by Mozart, Karajan and Furtwangler. But despite all the talk of cancellations - Riccardo Muti, Marilyn Horne and Edita Gruberova withdrew for artistic reasons, while Jessye Norman and Cheryl Studer had health problems - Salzburg audiences have seemed reasonably receptive to the innovations brought in by the Festival's controversial new director, Gerard Mortier.

RECORDS / Fatal attractions, flawed alliances: Stephen Johnson and Edward Seckerson review Puccini's Tosca and Gorecki's Symphony No 3

PUCCINI: Tosca Freni, Domingo, Ramey, Philharmonia, Royal Opera Chorus / Giuseppe Sinopoli (DG 431 775-2)
Career Services

Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Lake Garda, Venice & Verona from £629pp
Dubrovnik
Vietnam
Bruges
South Africa
Spain
Prices correct as of 12 December 2014
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas