Culture festival is in financial center Performances: London's financial district will be the site of concerts, opera, drama and film this summer.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Visitors to the British capital this summer should allot some of their time to its financial district -- not for investment purposes, but to take advantage of a three-week festival of concerts, opera, drama and films ranging from the classics to the distinctly oddball.

The festival, to be held between June 25 and July 14, will offer nTC more than 100 events, featuring leading performers from Europe and the United States.

British music critic Lance Onslow describes it as an occasion "sparkling with diversity. Audiences will have an opportunity to see and hear music and drama rarely on offer."

Adding to the interest for tourists, many of the festival's offerings will be staged in famous buildings, some of them dating from the Middle Ages, that dot the area familiarly known to Londoners as the "square mile."

It was here that the Romans first settled in Britain nearly 2,000 years ago. Archaeological finds from the Roman era are still routinely dug up by con- struction workers.

"Many of the most significant and dramatic events in British history occurred within this small patch of space," historian Timothy Worthington notes. "The past is present in its narrow streets as almost nowhere else in England."

The area was severely battered in German bombing raids during World War II, but much of historic interest remains.

Administratively distinct from the rest of the capital, the City of London (its official name) has its own lord mayor and a separate police force. It is one of the world's financial centers, as well as the site of such architectural gems as St. Paul's Cathedral, designed by Christopher Wren, and the medieval Guildhall.

The sumptuous Guildhall will be the scene of several musical performances. The Mansion House, the lord mayor's official residence, will be the site of concerts by such British opera stars as soprano Felicity Lott and mezzo-soprano Ann Murray. American baritone Rodney Gilfry sings at Stationers' Hall on July 10.

But the festival's organizers are emphasizing fun as well as high culture. Want to have your photo taken with James Bond or King Kong? No problem, the organizers say.

Free lunchtime theater, ballet and music will have an added attraction: people dressed as well-known characters from movies strolling through such familiar tourist haunts as St. Paul's Churchyard and making themselves available for snapshots.

Some events will focus on the bizarre. One example is a an anti-war play, "Funeral Song," that will be performed by a Polish theatrical company, Teatr Biuro Podrozy, in the square next to St. Paul's. Some of the actors will perform on stilts, and at the end of each performance, the scenery will be set on fire and destroyed as a symbol of war's wanton destructiveness.

Americans will figure prominently in the festival.

Jazz luminary Oscar Peterson will star at the City of London's Barbican Theater on June 29. A composition by jazzman Dave Brubeck, called "Chromatic Fantasy," will have a world-premiere performance by the British-based Brodsky Quartet in another remarkable setting, Merchant Taylors' Hall, on June 27.

Other festival concerts will highlight the music of George Gershwin and Charlie Parker.

The 100th anniversary of the invention of motion pictures will be marked by lectures, music from famous films and a showing of Cecil B. de Mille's silent film classic, "King of Kings."

Festival organizers say they expect as many as 80,000 visitors, which would rank the three-week event among the top European cultural attractions of the year.

Pub Date: 5/12/96

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