Visitors have been flocking to the south of France in high summer since 1948 to join the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Last year, 81,000 visitors attended performances which garnered very favourable reviews from international critics. Bernard Foccroulle, festival director since 2007, has established a clear vision. Mozart operas are a staple ingredient – as are Handel’s – and there is a strong tradition of presenting new work. The link with American theatre director Peter Sellars continues, as does the engagement of British director Katie Mitchell, who returns for Debussy’s enigmatic opera Pelléas et Mélisande.

Théâtre de l'Archevêché
Théâtre de l'Archevêché
What makes this production of Pelléas at the Grand Théâtre de Provence so mouth-watering is that London audiences have already had a sneak (aural) peak at what’s in store. In November, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the Philharmonia in a scintillating concert account of the score, semi-staged with effective lighting. Three of the singers from that performance – Stéphane Degout (Pelléas), Laurent Naouri (Golaud) and Chloé Briot (Yniold) – reunite with Salonen and his orchestra. What Katie Mitchell will bring to Debussy’s setting of Maurice Maeterlinck’s symbolist play is bound to intrigue. In a forest, Golaud discovers the mysterious Mélisande. He brings her as his bride to the castle of his grandfather, King Arkel of Allemonde. But Mélisande becomes entangled with Pelléas, Golaud’s younger half-brother, arousing Golaud’s jealousy. Mitchell is an Aix regular; her gripping production of Written on Skin has since travelled the globe, while Alcina last summer was described as “a masterclass of Handelian stagecraft”.

This year’s Handel isn’t one of his operas, but one of his many oratorios: Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno (The Triumph of Time and Disillusionment). Composed by the 22-year old Handel to a text by Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, it deals with four allegorical figures – Beauty, Pleasure, Time and Truth. Beauty gazes into a mirror, accepts Pleasures reassurances that her beauty will remain forever, but Time and Truth dispute this. Both sides begin a philosophical battle for Beauty’s soul. Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski in the open-air Théâtre de l'Archevêché sees these figures through the eyes of a group of teenagers who will populate the stage along with the four characters. Handel’s score is packed with such wonderful things that he later recycled them; most famous is the aria “Lascia la spina” which became “Lascia ch’io pianga” in Rinaldo. Emmanuelle Haïm conducts Le Concert d’Astrée and a fabulous quartet of singers: Michael Spyres, Sara Mingardo, Franco Fagioli and the marvellous French soprano Sabine Devieilhe, who previously sang the role of Serpetta (Mozart’s La finta giardiniera) at Aix in 2011.

Théâtre du Jeu de Paume
Théâtre du Jeu de Paume
How cynical is Così fan tutte? Mozart and da Ponte’s opera offers directors a wealth of interpretations. Soldiers Ferrando and Guglielmo make a bet with wily old Don Alfonso about the fidelity of their girlfriends, sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi. The Don, aided by the girls’ maid Despina and ‘Albanian’ disguises for the boys, manipulates the situation with the result that each sister falls for the other’s fiancé. What might sound like a silly comedy has dark undertones as we question each character’s role and motives. Christophe Honoré is far better known as a film director than for his work on the opera stage (he directed Pelléas et Mélisande at Opéra de Lyon last June) and this is both his first Aix commission and his first Mozart opera. In Così, Honoré transports the action from Naples to colonial Eritrea under Mussolini. The results could be fascinating.

Peter Sellars’ double bill of Iolanta and Perséphone was a hit at last summer’s festival. Sellars’ exploration of Stravinsky continues this season with another double bill, this time pairing opera-oratorio Oedipus rex with the Symphony of Psalms. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts and Violeta Urmana’s Jocasta is the pick of the cast. Salonen also conducts an orchestral concert of Stravinsky including Agon and The Rite of Spring.

The world première of Ondřej Adámek’s Seven Stones takes place at the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume. It is an a cappella opera about a mineralogist on a search for the stone which was almost used to stone to death the adulterous woman in the New Testament who was saved by Christ. On his travels, he discovers other stones which ultimately lead to tragedy. Sung in English, the text is by Icelandic poet Sjón.

The other contemporary opera at Aix this summer is drawn from ancient Indian fable. Kalîla wa Dimna is composed by Moneim Adwan, who also performs one of the main roles. These fables, written by Ibn al-Muqaffa' in the eighth century, were originally intended for the moral education of Indian princes. Sung in Arabic and French and performed on a range of Arabic instruments, this is described by the composer as “a marriage of Arab and European cultures”.

Those wanting a break from opera will be tempted by some eye-catching chamber music: top cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras gets a "carte blanche" to invite his favourite musicians, who include Alexander Melnikov for Beethoven cello sonatas, baritone Stéphane Degout and the Arcanto String Quartet. Saxophonist Raphaël Imbert also gets a "carte blanche" with which he puts on more contemporary work.

From Adwan’s Arabia to Debussy’s Allemonde, there is plenty to tempt the operatic traveller to Provence this summer.