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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Edinburgh Fest to Celebrate 50 Years of Affordable Arts

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- The Edinburgh Festival, billed as the world's largest arts extravaganza, turns 50 this year with past and present triumphs on offer at rock-bottom prices.

From the San Francisco ballet to Australian aborigine dances, from the film of a Chinese homosexual's ordeal to Verdi's opera "Macbeth," the organizers plan a memorable party.

"First and foremost I have tried to put on a humdinger of a festival, but also to look back over 50 years and recreate some of the seminal moments," said festival director Brian McMaster.

Seat prices have risen since the first festival in 1947, but Edinburgh is still one of the cheapest places to see and hear world-class performers. Tickets for ?5 ($8) are available for almost all shows.

"Low prices are absolutely essential," McMaster said of the three-week festival in August. "Prices here are infinitely lower than any other major festival."

Festival-goers will pay up to ?50 for the Royal Opera as opposed to ?200 at its Covent Garden home in London. At this year's festival, blasts from the past abound.

The Royal Opera returns after a 35-year absence with Verdi's "Macbeth" -- an outstanding success in 1947 -- and the first complete staging in living memory of Rameau's "Platee."

Scottish Opera stages the original 1912 version of Richard Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos," not performed in Britain since Sir Thomas Beecham conducted it at the 1950 festival.

The aboriginal Bangarra Dance Theater offers the world premiere of "Fish," stories about Australia's indigenous people.

The San Francisco Ballet, one of America's finest classical companies, makes its first visit to Edinburgh in 17 years with two programs.

"Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes," with music by Virgil Thomson, gives festival favorite Mark Morris -- who once said he would dance in a swamp to appear in Edinburgh -- an unaccustomed role as a classical choreographer.

Drama includes a new production of T.S. Eliot's "Cocktail Party," which made its world premiere at the 1949 festival, and Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" -- Stephane Braunschweig's first English-language production. "East Palace, West Palace" is filmmaker Zang Yuan's story of a homosexual writer picked up by police in the toilets of Beijing's Tiananmen square. In "Partition," the Tamasha Theater Company looks at the legacy of the 1947 partition of India in Britain's Hindu and Moslem communities.

The festival, which has grown into the world's largest arts event, was given little chance of success when the city council started it so as to lift some of the gloom after World War II.

Rudolph Bing, the first director, thought the rather austere Scottish capital unsuitable and wanted to move to Oxford.

Last year, box office sales topped ?2 million for the first time. The International Festival, along with the Fringe and Film Festivals and the Military Tattoo, add about 1,000 jobs and ?44 million to Edinburgh's income.

The 1997 budget is ?5.8 million with 65 percent raised by ticket sales, sponsorships and donations. The balance comes from official grants.