German composer Robert Schumann's tale of a fairy-like creature's quest to enter paradise opened an Oriental-themed Edinburgh International Festival this weekend to the acclaim of the critics.

Festival Director Jonathan Mills told Reuters he chose Schumann's oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri (Paradise and the Peri) for Friday night's opening concert because it is a lovely piece of European Orientalism.

Mills has said this year's month-long arts festival in the Scottish capital aims to bring the Orient to the Far West

Most of the major stage productions in the 2011 program are from Asia, including three interpretations of William Shakespeare from South Korea and China.

The Schumann oratorio, based on a poem by early 19th century Irish writer Thomas Moore, tells the story of the efforts of a peri, a fairy-like creature, to enter paradise.

It takes the peri's quest through India, Africa, Syria and Egypt, and was one of Schumann's most acclaimed works when it first appeared in 1843. It is now rarely performed.

Scotland's Herald newspaper critic Michael Tumelty gave the performance in a packed Usher Hall a five-star rating.

He described it as an awesome performance from a top-drawer team of vocal soloists, the Edinburgh Festival Chorus at its most perceptive, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, blindingly at its world-class best, and conductor Sir Robert Norrington.

He had high praise for soprano Susan Gritton as the peri.

The Scotsman newspaper critic Kenneth Walton gave the oratorio four stars. He said it had taken time for Gritton to project convincingly the role of the peri, though in truth her best music comes at the end, where she shone magnificently.

The International Festival runs through to September 4, with a wide program of theater, ballet, visual arts, discussions between participating artists and a musical program which includes Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar and Indonesia's court gamelan orchestra.

The International Book Festival also opened Saturday, while the huge Fringe Festival with more than 2,500 productions and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo on the Castle esplanade are already under way.

(Edited by Paul Casciato)