Page last updated at 06:23 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 07:23 UK

Elaine Paige launches eisteddfod

Elaine Paige
Elaine Paige's concert marked her 40 years on the musical stage

West End and Broadway star Elaine Paige has opened the International Music Eisteddfod with a celebration of her 40 years in showbusiness.

Performers from 50 countries are due to take part in more than 20 competitions over the course of the six-day event.

The annual event attracts performers from across the world but in the past some have cancelled their entries because of the cost of obtaining visas.

However, festival organisers say visa costs are to be cut.

The new chief executive Mervyn Cousins has already said the Home Office has agreed to reduce the cost of visas for groups from next year.

Two years ago groups from the Ukraine, Turkey and Indonesia said the work-free permit visas, then 86, were beyond their reach.

Performance visas this year are 99 but Mr Cousins said negotiations with the UK Border Agency meant that from next year performers would be able to apply for a visitor's visa, currently 65.

Wednesday: Folk dancers and choirs from 10 countries at the official Welcoming Ceremony Concert
Thursday: Onke Ose: 17 singers and dancers from Africa trace the history of the continent's music from Zulu dancing to a capella
Friday: Vocal quartet All Angels deliver a repertoire spanning classical, choral, opera and pop
Saturday: Winning choirs from the five major choral competitions compete for the title of Choir of The World and the Pavarotti Trophy
Sunday: Llangollen International Opera Gala with tenor Alfie Boe, Elin Manahan Thomas and Chirk baritone David Kempster

He said: "It's a real boost to us because it's a reduction of a third.

"These are big sums, particularly in parts of the world where 99 is a whole month's salary in some cases."

He said the 18 months of negotiation had also brought a closer working relationship with the borders agency, with its international group director, Mark Sedwill, being one of this year's "day presidents" at the festival.

Elaine Paige became a household name in 1978 for her performance as Eva Peron in the stage musical Evita. She also had Top 10 hit with Memory, from Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Cats.

Her West End debut was in the 1968 production of Hair and the festival billed her concert on Tuesday evening as an anniversary show marking 40 years of performing.

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