Michael Coveney: Crazy Over New Baroque & RollDate: 17 August 2010
I've seen a few rousing receptions in the Queen's Hall down the years, but nothing has surpassed the acclaim that greeted Magdalena Kozena, the amazing Czech mezzo soprano married to Simon Rattle, yesterday morning.
With a small band of baroque musicians -- playing guitar, cello, lute, harp and violin -- she delivered an enchanting programme of sixteenth and seventeenth Italian madrigals and Spanish sevillanas by Monteverdi and a whole roster of forgotten, wonderful composers.
And she did so with her blonde hair flowing in a lovely printed flower dress and bare feet, like a wounded nymph from the forest, singing of love, death, verdant meadows and vales of tears.
What a voice she has! She is the ultimate embodiment of sexy baroque and roll at this year's international festival, totally eclipsing the colaratura sopranos and counter tenors in the Mexican opera Montezuma.
One of Jonathan Mills's great innovations as the EIF director are the early evening concerts in Greyfriars Kirk, next to Greyfriars' Bobby and the Bedlam Theatre.
Yesterday's opener, Fiesta Crolla, was a magnificent blend of sacred and choral late 18th century music given by a choir, orchestra and vocal soloists under the spirited direction of the Montezuma conductor, Gabriel Garrido.
The setting was perfect, and the programme started with a procession down the nave in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There were songs of nativity, joy, "gladsome goldfinches and pretty streams" and the morning star.
Best of all, at the end, we celebrated, for the second time this festival, the art and magic of the bullfights. The brilliant stage representation in The Sun Also Rises was matched by the rush of vocal colour describing the fiesta of death in the afternoon in praise of the Virgin Mary: who says bullfighting is anti-religious?
I'd say that the Greyfriars programme makes it the "go to" venue this festival, with upcoming visits from the Tallis Scholars, Bolivian Baroque, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, and early music specialists Ex Cathedra.
I must now gird my loins for this morning's Haymarket Masterclass on theatre criticism at the Pleasance Courtyard, where I look forward to trading blows with Lynn Gardner, Kate Copstick and Matt Trueman.
How do we decide what to see at festival time? Impossible to answer, of course. But anyone who missed Magdalena Kozena missed everything, as far as I'm concerned.