Any doubts about the cosmopolitan nature of the International Festival should be dispelled through a quick synopsis of this production. Using a Japanese setting, the German director Doris Dörrie presents an ancient Greek tale, combining modern Japanese dance and traditional dress as the Scottish conductor directs music written by a German who became a British citizen. All sung in Italian with English subtitles.
Musically McGegan has opted to lay his Baroque orchestra out as it would have been during the original performance. A novel idea, McGegan notes that it lifts the conductor up from being simply a ‘glorified traffic warden’ between pit and stage. Allowing for a closer connection with stage action, the delicate and spritely sounds of the orchestra blend nicely with the stage performance.
The Japanese theme does, however, assume that in Handel – reliant on powerful patrons, in a way later artists were not – there lies an international and timeless quality, able to skip freely across time and space. It is unclear if this is the case. Handel evokes the culture of Versailles, Bernini and George II and was very much a pillar of British-Hanoverian cultural authority. Throwing an eastern culture of Pagodas and repressed emotions into the mix potentially sits uneasily with the music. Yet on the whole the Japanese theme combined with interesting use of light and shadow is effective, with the highly formalised world of eighteenth century Japan proving a surprisingly apt arena for Handel’s music.
Ironically it is the International Festival, not the Fringe, which has continued to surprise audiences with the talent and bold visions it has to offer. Highly recommended.
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