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Melbourne, Australia International Festival

Preview of a world-class arts festival in Melbourne, Australia.

In Australia at the moment there are two really big events on the agenda: Sydney is getting excited about hosting the 2000 Olympics now that Atlanta is out of the way, and Melbourne is boasting arguably Australia's biggest arts festival - the Melbourne International Festival which starts mid October.

In an enormous program (covering over 50 events), there is just about something for everyone, including theatre, opera, music, visual arts and special events.

For the musically inclined (like me), the gem of the program is probably a performance of the Richard Strauss Opera, "Die Frau ohne Schatten" which has, until now, been restricted (at least here in Australia) to performances on TV and on compact disc.

A stunning opera, running for some five hours, "Die Frau ohne Schatten" has never been performed in Victoria, if not Australia, and avid Straussians from all over Australia, and even South East Asia, are lining up for their tickets.

Even more impressive about this particularly performance is that it will conducted by Australia's very own First Lady of the Baton, Simone Young--who has made such an impact around the nation and as far afield as the Cologne Opera and the Vienna State Opera, where she has conducted regularly over the last few years. In an interview last week she said that she was excited by the prospect of condcting Strauss's marvellous opera; no one doubts that it may lead to further exciting developments in her career. In fact, when they say that Simone Young is the best Australian conductor since Charles Mackerras they are not joking: so this will be a special event.

For those who do not fancy a night of Straussian indulgence complete with what some would say is an incomprehensive opera story line, there are plenty of othe musical events. There will be performances by artists as dissimilar as the Ensemble Modern, Dudley Moore, Marianne Faithfull (remember her!), and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. The Nederlands Dance Theatre and the Urban Bush Women will provide the dance input to the festival, and there will even be a chamber music sunset series at the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria. (By September, the rain might have cleared here in the deep south of Australia and we may even see a real sunset!)

The great classics are not neglected either: there will be a performance of Haydn's "The Seasons", featuring the Australian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Richard Tognetti. Soloists are listed as Rebecca Evans, Donald Kaasch, Geert Smits, and Melbourne's best choral group, the Melbourne Chorale, will also participate.

A choral piece of a quite different sort is Janacek's Glagolithic Mass which will be performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mark Elder with the Victorian State Opera Chorus and soloists. That the performance will be sung in Old Church Slavonic indicates just how determined the organisers of this year's festival are to make it the real thing.

Australian pianists and other soloists feature strongly in the festival program and Michael Kieran Harvey intends to play two visionary works; Liszt's Etudes d'execution transcendante and George Crumb's Makrokosmos 1 and Makrokosmos 11.

All in all, it's a fascinating and very unusual program with lots of interesting events for even the most jaded festival goer. In general, the typical pieces and activities have been avoided in favour of more unusual and exotic fare, and more risks have been taken than with some festivals.

And, pace Australia's short video of Sydney at the end of the Atlanta Olymic Games, there will not be a kangaroo in sight!

Further information about the Melboure International festival of the Arts can be obtained from their office at PO Box 7550, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, telephone 61 9866 8866, fax 61 3 9820 3611,

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