The 2006 Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), the last under outgoing EIF director Brian McMaster, opens this Sunday in the Scottish capital (See News, 22 Mar 2006). EIF - the parent to the much larger and more chaotic Edinburgh Fringe, which opened last weekend - runs from 13 August to 3 September 2006 this year with its mix of opera, ballet, music and theatre from around the globe.

Legendary German director Peter Stein - whose acclaimed production of Blackbird, starring Roger Allam and Jodhi May, at last year’s EIF transferred to the West End earlier this year (See News, 2 Dec 2005) - returns to direct an epic new production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Following dates at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre, from 14 to 26 August 2006, it will visit Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the RSC’s Complete Works festival (See News, 8 Feb 2006). Stein also directs Tchaikovsky’s opera Mazeppa.

Other theatre highlights at the 2006 EIF include: the world premiere of Realism by Anthony Neilson (whose previous Festival commission The Wonderful World of Dissocia was a hit in 2004), the first co-production between EIF and the National Theatre of Scotland; Long Life, a play without words performed by the New Riga Theatre that follows one day in the lives of retired people living in a communal block in Latvia, directed by Alvis Hermanis, who won the Young Directors Project Award at the Salzburg Festival in 2003; and director Krystian Lupa and American Repertory Theatre’s production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Ever-controversial Spanish director Calixto Bieito premieres Platform, adapted from Michel Houellebecq’s novel in collaboration with the author. It charts a French civil servant’s voyage of self-discovery as a tourist in Thailand and his ultimate realisation that sex is not necessarily the most consuming nor the most dangerous of human passions. Bieito’s previous EIF productions include Celestina, Hamlet, Life is a Dream and the opera Il Trovatore.

In addition to theatrical productions, 2006 EIF attractions include: Claudio Abbado conducting Mozart’s The Magic Flute; Simon Rattle conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker; Charles Mackerras conducting all of Beethoven’s nine symphonies; large scale ballet with the UK premiere of Balanchine’s Don Quixote; and a host of international orchestras and artists. The Lloyds TSB Scotland Concerts enable audiences to choose from three concerts a night for three nights each week. Each concert, approximately an hour in length, features the work of one composer.

Commenting on this year’s EIF, McMaster said: “The EIF is one of the most exciting places in the world to experience the performing arts, enabling us to present world-class experiences to the widest possible audience.” He added: “This year is obviously a very special Festival for me. Many artists I admire expressed a wish to be in my final Festival, and many supporters have invested that bit extra this year.” McMaster will be succeeded by Jonathan Mills, one of Australia’s leading festival directors, who will programme events for the 2007 Festival and beyond.

More than half a million people plan their August holidays each year around a trip to Edinburgh. The granddaddy of them all, EIF is just one of some seven festivals that overtake the Scottish city in August. The others are the Edinburgh Film Festival, Book Festival, Jazz & Blues Festival, Visual Arts Festival, the Military Tattoo and, of course, its main spin-off, the Edinburgh Fringe which, on its own, qualifies as the world's largest arts festival, with over 1,500 shows presented annually.

To access the full 2006 Edinburgh International Festival programme - as well as online booking - visit the festival website.

- by Terri Paddock