March 25, 2009 / 5:11 PM / 10 years ago

Edinburgh festival aims to beat recession blues

EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) hopes to shake off the recession blues with a wide-ranging program for its 2009 season inspired by Scotland’s 18th century enlightenment.

Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills (L) stands behind plastic sheeting as graffiti artist Aga sprays paints round his body during a photocall to launch the 62nd festival programme in Edinburgh, Scotland April 2, 2008. REUTERS/David Moir

The festival’s Australian director Jonathan Mills unveiled the program on Wednesday, covering opera, music, ballet, theater, the visual arts and debate which runs from August 14 to September 6.

The EIF runs in parallel with the anarchic Fringe, the International Book Festival and the Edinburgh Arts Festival to make the biggest annual arts extravaganza in the world.

Asked if the global economic crisis had hit the EIF budget, Mills told Reuters: “We haven’t found any evidence of it yet.

“It doesn’t mean it’s not out there and it doesn’t mean it’s not waiting for us, but we haven’t had any evidence of it. Government support is as strong as ever, corporate and other forms of funding are as strong as ever ... and we’re about to find out what the box office does.”

He told a news conference at the festival launch that income from sponsorship and donations was running at 2.15 million pounds ($3.13 million), up more than 20 percent from 2008, while public sector support topped five million pounds.


The international festival was founded in 1947 to brighten the dark days of austerity after World War Two.

It now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from home and abroad, with 30,000 jobs depending on tourism in Edinburgh.

This year’s program brings together companies from Australia, Singapore, the United States, Ireland, and a number of European countries, and highlights the anniversaries of composers Felix Mendelssohn and George Frideric Handel.

The opening concert in the Usher Hall presents Handel’s “Judas Maccabaeus,” first performed in London’s Covent Garden in 1747 when the composer was a major propagandist for the Hanoverian monarchy in the wake of the 1745 Jacobite uprising.

Operatic offerings include more works by Handel, Verdi, Wagner and Purcell, and a staged production from Flanders of “The Birdmen of St Kilda,” Scotland’s westernmost island, sung in Gaelic, French and English.

Mills said one of the highlights would be Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Actus Tragicus” performed by the state opera of Stuttgart.

Australia’s Malthouse Melbourne will take a quirky theatrical look at Voltaire, while Edinburgh’s Traverse Theater explores the dark side of early 18th century Scotland with “The Last Witch,” about Janet Horne who became the last woman burned in Scotland for witchcraft in 1727.

Romania’s national theater will offer an adaptation of Goethe’s “Faust,” and New York’s Mabou Mines provides “Peter and Wendy,” an exuberant adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.”

TheatreWorks from Singapore offers “Diaspora,” music, as usual, is a prominent part of the festival with Bach’s cantatas presented at Greyfriars Kirk among other major productions.

The Scottish Enlightenment will be explored with a series of talks and debates in partnership with the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Nature magazine and the Wellcome Trust.

Editing by Mike Collett-White and Paul Casciato

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