Artists in wonderland

NO special theme this year, unless you count the element of fantasy in several programmes, Arts Festival general manager Tseng Sun-man said a little diffidently when details of the three-week cultural binge were announced.

Theme? Who needs it when you have officially come of age and can say many happy returns to ensembles and artists of the calibre of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Carl Davis, Cleo Laine and more? Tonight, the curtain rises on the 21st Hongkong Arts Festival and yes, fantasy - along with major new attractions - is a key component. It will certainly infect the Cultural Centre Grand Theatre where, starting this evening, audiences will be swept into the glittering world of 18th century Vienna.

With a running time of four hours, Der Rosenkavalier is the most ambitious opera yet staged by the Arts Festival and should deliver entertainment of the highest order.

Led by celebrated British soprano Josephine Barstow and accompanied by the Hongkong Philharmonic, the world-class cast will perform Richard Strauss' poignant comedy about an aristocratic woman of the world who discovers to her pain that passion, youth and beauty are all too fleeting.

Limited tickets remain for Der Rosenkavalier - as they do for all the festival openers.

SETTING a new duration record will be Abel Gance's 1929 epic, Napoleon (tonight and tomorrow at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium). The 51/2 hours of meticulously restored film will be accompanied by Carl Davis' score.


Napoleon, starring Albert Dieudonne in the title role, covers the Emperor's life from boyhood till his entry into Italy - which is where the money ran out.

As British film historian Kevin Brownlow reveals, Gance originally planned to cover Napoleon's life in six long episodes, but blew his entire budget on the first.

THEY made their debut in the Year of the Rooster. Now four cycles on, the members of the Borodin String Quartet have finally made it to Hongkong.

Inevitably, 48 years have seen some changes in the distinguished ensemble which will perform at the City Hall Concert Hall from tonight till Monday.


At first it was known as the Moscow Philharmonic Quartet - that changed in 1955 - and in 1974 new leader, Mikhail Kopelman and Andrei Abramenkov (second violin) joined original members Dmitri Shebalin (viola) and Valentin Berlinsky (cello).

They have chosen Tchaikovsky and Brahms for their first-ever concerts in Hongkong.


IF you saw Daniel And The Lions or Clerkes, Jongleurs and Minnesingers at the 1990 festival, you probably placed Frederick Renz and his Ensemble for Early Music (City Hall Concert Hall, February 4-6) near the top of your 1993 list.

Claudio Monteverdi, who died 350 years ago, is being honoured this time by EEM, founded 17 years ago by Renz, the former Fulbright scholar who enjoys an outstanding reputation as a conductor, harpsichordist and all-round keyboard whiz.

With a repertoire of seldom-heard European masterpieces played on instruments such as the shawm, EEM has established itself as North America's finest early music group.


Note: The concert by pianist Margaret Leng Tan (APA Concert Hall, February 2), is sold out. IT'S a small world, but full of fun and excitement, promises France's Velo Theatre whose double bill opens tonight at the Arts Centre's Shouson Theatre for a three-day run including tomorrow's matinee.

Miniature puppets and sets, and some big talents behind them have brought delight to audiences across the globe and Hongkong's should be no exception - especially as Velo needs no words to get its stories across.

The Postman and The Fisherman have been chosen for the festival's first family theatre offering.


Also leaping across cultural boundaries will be Stomp presented by Britain's Yes/No People (APA Lyric Theatre, February 1 and 2).

Luke Cresswell and his seven co-performers are the marvels who create percussive magic out of dustbin lids, Zippo lights, brooms and the proverbial kitchen sink - to mention just a few of their ''instruments''.

Rounding out the entertainment will be Adventures In Motion Pictures, the Vietnam Water Puppets whose 1,000-year-old art form can be seen at the South China Athletic Association indoor swimming pool starting February 4 and the Hongkong Repertory Theatre's production, in Cantonese and Mandarin, of Jerry Sterner's Other People's Money.

The award-winning comedy opens tonight at the Cultural Centre Studio Theatre and should strike a powerful chord in either dialect. It's about ruthless Wall Street deals.

- Zelda Cawthorne