Edinburgh Fest opens with swipe at Scots history

Sat Aug 15, 2009 10:08am EDT
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By Ian MacKenzie

EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) opened with a provocative oratorio that lionizes the general who massacred Highland clansmen and ended Bonnie Prince Charlie's bid for the British throne.

George Frederic Handel's "Judas Maccabaeus" -- which tells the tale of Duke of Cumberland, the 1746 battle of Culloden and the triumph of the House of Hanover over the Stuarts -- won warm applause from a packed audience at the official opening of the EIF in the city's Usher Hall on Friday night.

But the doggerel verses by the composer's collaborator, an Anglican vicar, left something to be desired and there had been questions as to whether the piece was appropriate for a Scotland celebrating a "homecoming year" for the Scottish Diaspora.

Despite the global recession, the international festival and the parallel book festival, which opened on Saturday, the free-wheeling Fringe and the military tattoo are looking to a lucrative month.

EIF offerings range through Richard Wagner's opera "The Flying Dutchman" by the Hamburg State Opera, a staged production of St Kilda about the tiny group of islands off the Scottish west coast in Gaelic, French and English, and works by companies from Australia and Singapore. There is a wide range of theater, music, dance and debate.

EIF's Australian director said the festival aimed to "inspire discussion and debate."

German-born Handel established himself in 18th century London as a propagandist for the Hanoverian dynasty that came to the British throne in 1714. The Jacobite uprising of 1745-46 sought to oust the Hanoverian George II in favor of Charles Edward Stuart.

The rebels were defeated, Prince Charles fled to France, and the Hanoverians were firmly on the British throne.   Continued...