Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 14:35 UK

'Provocative' work opens festival

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The conqu'ring hero chorus

The Edinburgh International Festival has begun with a controversial performance of a work celebrating the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden.

Judas Maccabaeus by Handel was first performed in 1747, just a year after the battle and includes a famous tribute to the Duke of Cumberland.

The Australian director of the festival, Jonathan Mills, said he did not intend to be provocative.

But some believe the choice is unfortunate in the year of Homecoming.

Even 250 years after Culloden, this celebration of the Duke of Cumberland's role in quelling the Jacobite rising is still capable of upsetting Scottish nationalists.

Popular aria

The Jacobites wanted to restore the House of Stuart to the throne of Britain.

Handel was seen as the chief propagandist of the Hanoverian royal family.

The chorus - "see the conqu'ring hero comes" is dedicated to the duke.

It will be sung in Edinburgh's Usher Hall in a massive opening night concert attended by a number of guests including the Scottish culture minister.

The 63rd international festival is already doing well at the box office with a number of events including a massive production of Faust featuring a cast of 120 and an opera about St Kilda, already sold out.

Mr Mills told BBC Scotland: "The opening concert of Judas Maccabaeus has been construed as being very provocative.

"It wasn't my intention although I knew exactly what I was getting myself into."

He said it was not a provocation to people who think Culloden was an "horrendous piece of butchery".

jonathan mills
It is a story about a man whose thirst for knowledge is so insatiable he will make a pact with anyone just to get knowledge, including the devil
Jonathan Mills

Instead he insisted it was an appeal, in the year of Homecoming, to deal with all aspects of Scottish history, good and bad.

"Let's actually deal with the complexity of our history because it is a really interesting story," he said.

The Enlightenment is the theme of this year's festival.

Mr Mills said it was an historical period during which Scotland created a set of ideas which formed the foundations of the modern world.

A five-night run of Goethe's Faust will be staged by a Romanian theatre company at the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Mr Mills said: "It is a story about a man whose thirst for knowledge is so insatiable he will make a pact with anyone just to get knowledge, including the devil.

"That is a great Enlightenment conversation. It is a conversation that starts in the 18th century and it is a conversation about a world that is no longer about belief but about knowledge."

Curious orange

Scottish playwright Rona Munro's The Last Witch, co-produced with Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre and directed by Dominic Hill, will be staged as a world premiere.

The festival's director described it as a story of "endarkenment".

It is based on the historical account of Janet Horne, the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in Scotland.

Other festival highlights include Scots born choreographer Michael Clark returning to the EIF for the first time since I am curious, Orange in 1988, which featured music by indie legends The Fall.

His new work is inspired by rock legends David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.

In theatre, three plays by Ireland's most popular living playwright Brian Friel will be staged by Dublin's Gate Theatre company.

Optimism, inspired by Voltaire's satire on enlightened insanity, sees Australian comedian Frank Woodley, who won the Perrier comedy award in 1994, lead a bunch of clowns on a journey to Utopia.

St Kilda: Island of Birdmen is an opera which looks at life on the most westerly of Scottish islands, which were finally abandoned by their population in 1930.

Traditional Gaelic song and contemporary music are performed against a backdrop of vintage and modern film as actors, singers and acrobats tell the story.



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