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Loney's Show Notes

By Glenn Loney, September 19, 2006

Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.

Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:

Sixty Years for the Fest--Fifty for GML!
Productions of New & Old Works--
Peter Stein's TROILUS & CRESSIDA--
Missed Opportunities--
Dance Entertainments--
Brazil's Grupo de Rua de Niterói--
Suzanne Farrell's Balanchine's DON QUIXOTE--
Stolen from The Golden Bough: THE ASSASSIN TREE--
Festival Centerpiece: The Edinburgh Military Tattoo--
Skirting the Edinburgh Fringe--
At Other Important Venues--


Sixty Years for the Fest--Fifty for GML!

Way back in 1946, the Artistic Director of the now famed Glyndebourne Festival found the answer for longer lives for his trend-setting opera-productions. After their early summer premieres, there was no place for them to go--except on fall tours.

He looked around England for another site for another summer festival--but later in the season--and found no takers. Then Rudolf Bing--much later, Sir Rudolf--visited the Scots' Capital-City, Edinburgh. As with Brigham Young and the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, so also for Bing: THIS IS THE PLACE!

Initially, Opera-Productions were the favored programming, but subsequent Artistic Directors have been stronger in other areas of Performing Arts. Frank Dunlop was especially strong in Theatre.

Brian McMaster--now retiring after a 15-years stewardship--won his metaphoric-spurs with the Winnipeg Ballet, so Dance has been especially honored during his tenure.

This August, the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival was Sixty Years Old!

But this was also a Minor Anniversary for your reporter, who first enjoyed this festival in 1956, coming to Europe as a Professor for the University of Maryland Overseas. Initially, it never occurred to me to write reports about the Festival, as I bought my own tickets, having never heard of Press-Tickets or Press-Offices!

In fact, I had come to Edinburgh mainly to contact previously unknown relatives, as I had not one, but two, Scots Grandmothers, with relations spread over several clans: The Red Macdougalls, The Bannermans, & The Dangerfields--although the "d'Angervilles" were said to have come over from Norman France with King Billy the Conqueror. [My lawyer-cousin Nigel in time became a QC, or Queens Council. But, long before that, Helen Bannerman wrote Little Black Sambo, as a series of illustrated letters from British India. These are now in the Scottish National Library!]

When I realized--reading US newspapers abroad--that, for American Editors, Europe began with London and ended with Paris, I thought it was time to send back some reports from Central & Northern Europe, as well as from Northern Britain.

And I soon found out about the free Press-Tickets!

Initially, I filed reports with the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Herald-Tribune, and the late lamented Theatre Arts Magazine.

It was not always possible to come to the Edinburgh Festival over the past 50 years, especially when I was teaching Classic Drama in Athens--in translation, with the aid of Mme. Katina Paxinou!--for the University of Maryland.

But your reporter has been a fairly faithful Festival Visitor over half-a-century.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you who will replace Brian McMaster as the Fest's Artistic Director. I asked several times in the Press-Office, but no name was forthcoming. Surely someone has already been chosen and contracted? Arts Festivals have to be planned, not months, but years ahead

Considering that Prince Phillip was once Provost of the University of Edinburgh, how about Tony Blair as the new Artistic Director of the Edinburgh Festival?

Balanchine's Don Quixote. Photo: Bruce Zinger

He has proved a Master of Spin at No. 10 Downing Street. And he is soon to have a lot of time on his hands…

It was reported in a London newspaper that an Anonymous Donor has left the Festival some $3.7 million in his or her will!

This will surely help with the ever-rising costs of production & presentation, along with the considerable contributions of all the Corporate Sponsors--whom reporters & critics were asked to mention in their reports & reviews.

Standard Life sponsored Suzanne Farrell's reconstruction of George Balanchine's Don Quixote, while the Morton Charitable Trust aided the production of the world-premiere of The Assassin Tree at the Royal Lyceum Theatre.

The Bank of Scotland backed Peter Stein's RSC Troilus & Cressida, while Lloyds TSB Scotland/You First sponsored the novel concept of 3x3x3: Three classic concerts, three nights a week, over three weeks in Usher Hall.

All of Beethoven's Nine Symphonies were included. Your scribe was able to savor Symphony No. 4, with Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra!


Productions of New & Old Works--

In recent summers, however, there seems to have been a reduction in the number of Outstanding International Productions on offer at the Edinburgh Festival. This may very well reflect the decreases in Arts Subsidies in many lands, as touring is expensive, and productions brought to Edinburgh have to be heavily subsidized by their nations-of-origin.

This summer the fest ran from 13 August to 3 September. Your scribe was there for the second week, but the choices seemed limited. The most coveted-ticket was for Peter Stein's production of Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, but--although I sent in my ticket-request the moment I received the Official Program--there was no seat for Show-Notes. Fortunately, I'd already seen a Valery Gergiev production of this challenging opera.

Oddly enough, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe--which grew up around the fringes of the Established Festival--has done nothing but grow and grow and grow. Initially, it ran during the three weeks of the Major Event, using church-halls & sanctuaries, school-assembly-rooms, and lodge-halls for venues.

Now the Fringe opens in early August, a week before the "real" Festival, and it seems to extend to the end of the month as well. There are not just hundreds of productions & performances, but thousands!

Some of the "Fringe Firsts" and other shows on view this past August will turn up in Manhattan, at PS 122 and 59E59, among other Alternative Venues.

Some of the major entries in the Festival itself may in time come to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, or BAM. Peter Stein's magisterial staging of Shakespeare's Troilus & Cressida is a possibility.


Peter Stein's "TROILUS & CRESSIDA"--

Troilus & Cressida

After decades of celebrity as one of Europe's most innovative & dynamic stage-directors, Germany's Peter Stein may be Wearing Out His Welcome with some Major Critics. Several colleagues found his EF & Royal Shakespeare Company production of the Bard's Trojan War Play rather Dull.

I did not. On the contrary, I found it to be especially well-focused, considering that it seems to be about the progress of the Actual Trojan War--as recounted by Homer--as well as about the Fickleness of Woman.

Although T&C is not often staged--possibly because of its Duality of Focus--it is a powerful play, with some notable speeches and Verbal-Clashes. These Peter Stein was careful to highlight, rather than rush on past, as in some Summer Shakespeare Stagings.

The Stein/RSC T&C was certainly a distinct relief after the five-and-a-half-hour Troilus & Cressida that Italy's genius-director Luca Ronconi presented recently in Turin, on the occasion of Harold Pinter winning the European Theatre Prize.

As staged at Edinburgh's King's Theatre, deft Isolations of Lighting--by designer Japhy Weideman--not only made clear where the action was: in the Greek camp or in Troy, but also focused attention on major characters in action and speaking powerfully to the issues at hand.

This effect was immeasurably aided by the attention paid to the various speeches by all the other characters on stage at the time. They were actually listening & reacting, even if only silently! This is not a Hallmark of RSC productions in general, so this made the drama even more compelling in both Military & Human Terms.

Of course, the framework of the drama is provided by the lustful eagerness of the pimping Pandarus [Paul Jesson] to bring his niece Cressida [Annabel Scholey] together carnally with the young Trojan Prince, Troilus [Henry Pettigrew].

But the Grander Scale of the War--involving the sulking Achilles [Vincent Regan], the pathetic Menelaus [John Kane], the crafty Ulysses [David Yelland], and the valiant Hector [Richard Clothier]--is not neglected either. Great Issues are at stake, and they will be settled by Single Combat.

Not to overlook that Trojan Horse, but no one listens to the doomed prophetess, Cassandra [Kate Miles].

Cressida's father, the Trojan High Priest Calchas [Arthur Cox], has gone over to the Greeks. And his request to have his daughter reunited with him is fatal to the just-celebrated love of Troilus and this Unfortunate Pawn of Lustful Warlords.

That she makes a rapid adjustment to her New Situation has given Cressida an Unsavory Reputation that comes down to us through History. Nonetheless, in Peter Stein's production, she is able to show how she feels about the way she has been used and misused.

Perhaps this play is the Even Darker-Side of Star-Crossed Lovers, such as Romeo & Juliet

Others in the fine RSC cast include: Simon Armstrong as Aeneas, Adam Levy as Paris, Ian Hogg as Agamemnon, John Franklyn-Robbins as a tedious Old Nestor, Julian Lewis Jones as a strong but stupid Ajax, and Ian Hughes as a lascivious, jester-like Thersites.

In the Luca Ronconi production shown in Turin, Thersites was a contemporary one-armed battle-field correspondent, in combat-fatigues and equipped with typewriter!

Peter Stein and his set & costume-designers--Ferdinand Wögerbauer & Anna Marie Heinrich--are to be praised for suggesting the action in a semi-historic but rather Abstract-Space.

Among the Trojans, also admirable were: Jeffry Wickahm as Priam, Charlotte Moore as Andromache, and Rachel Pickup as Helen, the Abducted Wife who was the Cause of this devastating war. ["Was this the face that launched a thousand ships/And burned the topless towers of Ilium?" And so on and so forth…]


Missed Opportunities--

Reading the heap of adulatory reviews--aside from one grumpy critic who found it boring--I regretted I had no performance-slot free to see Long Life, a silent-show from Latvia's New Riga Theatre.

I should have checked it out, as I have not been to see theatre in Riga since 1987--when I found myself in the midst of the Second Protest Meeting for Latvian Independence from the Soviets.

That evening, back at the hotel, I saw myself on Moscow TV, sitting beside Latvia's ancient and most beloved poet! I had just been strolling by, photographing theatre-façades, when protest-organizers--realizing I was an American journalist--urged me inside the National Theatre where the meeting was in progress…

Long Life, a dialogue-free production--by Artistic Director Alvis Hermanis--shows a day in the lives of very old people living in a Riga apartment-block, in all the infinite details. The lives have been inspired by actors talking with real Old People, and the set is dressed with objects they have donated.

Premiered in 2003, this production has toured widely outside Latvia. So it's probably only a matter of time before it shows up in New York, possibly at BAM


Copyright Glenn Loney, 2006. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: jslaff@nytheatre-wire.com.

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