The Cours Mirabeau, Aix © Mark Pullinger
The Cours Mirabeau, Aix
© Mark Pullinger
It couldn’t be more idyllic. Far from the big city bustle of a typical opening night at the opera, most of the chatter comes from chirruping cicadas in the plane trees. As the sun sets, shirt-sleeved crowds gather at the open-air Théâtre de l'Archevêché, the temperature still balmy. The Festival D'Aix en Provence is a slice of opera heaven – top quality stagings (often co-productions with big European houses) in wonderful settings in one of France’s most picturesque cities. The festival has been running since 1948, growing from a celebration of Mozart to something much wider, encompassing rediscoveries of Baroque works to major new commissions.

Opera takes place in three venues. The atmosphere at the Théâtre de l'Archevêché is very special, with performances starting at 9pm as night blankets Aix. The Grand Théâtre de Provence opened in 2007 and is a large, comfortable house, while the Baroque Théâtre du Jeu de Paume dates from 1756 and seats under 500, a tiny gem tucked away in a side street. That diversity of repertoire is reflected in the 2018 festival operatic line-up. Mozart is present – as integral to Aix as it is to Glyndebourne – but there’s Purcell, Strauss and Prokofiev too, along with a world première. To complement the operas, there is a programme of concerts and recitals plus the Académie du Festival d’Aix, which welcomes young musicians from around the globe.

British director Katie Mitchell scored a huge success in Aix with her production of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, returning for Alcina and, in 2016, a very well-received Pelléas et Mélisande. This summer, she directs Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, which focuses on the tussle between ‘high-brow’ and ‘low’ art. At the home of “the richest man in Vienna”, a Composer, who is about to première his new opera seria, is instructed to run it simultaneously with a bawdy comedy so that the evening’s two entertainments will conclude by 9 o’clock in time for fireworks in the garden. With her preference for split screen stagings, it could be argued that presenting the Composer’s opera and the burlesque at the same time shouldn’t present Mitchell a problem! There will surely be plenty of backstage drama to witness during the clash of cultures taking place on stage. This co–production will later visit the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg and Finnish National Opera.

Théâtre de l'Archevêché © Festival d'Aix
Théâtre de l'Archevêché
© Festival d'Aix
Mitchell’s cast includes a rising star and a soprano already in the stellar firmament. Sabine Devieilhe has inherited the French coloratura crown from Natalie Dessay and is perfect casting as Zerbinetta, the saucy headline act of the burlesque troupe who has pinpoint vocal pyrotechnics to deliver. Lise Davidsen, the statuesque Norwegian with the laser soprano who won the 2015 Operalia competition, plays the prima donna, forced to share the stage as Ariadne.  

Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel deals with much darker matters, a young woman’s search for her ‘fiery angel’ with whom she has been in love since childhood and who has promised to appear to her in physical form. Believing she has found him, Renata gives herself to Count Heinrich. The knight Ruprecht (in love with Renata) helps her seek vengeance, but Renata ends up in a convent when she is accused of demonic possession, condemned to be burned at the stake along with the other possessed nuns. Mariusz Treliński directs a new production, shared with Polish and Norwegian National Operas. Ausrine Stundyte has impressed our reviewers before as Renata, “stunning... unafraid to push her voice to its limits and explore every nuance”.

Théâtre du Jeu de Paume © Festival d'Aix
Théâtre du Jeu de Paume
© Festival d'Aix
The Jeu de Paume hosts the world première of Czech composer Ondřej Adámek’s Seven Stones, postponed from the 2016 festival due to financial constraints. A co-production with Accentus / Opera de Rouen, the opera tells the story of a mineralogist in search of “the first stone” – the stone meant to be cast against the adulterous woman, but who was saved by Jesus Christ.

Last seen at Aix in 2014, Simon McBurney’s staging of Mozart’s Enlightenment opera Die Zauberflöte – a co-production with Dutch National and English National Operas – strips away a lot of theatrical artifice. Projectionists and Foley artists create sets and sound effects in full view of the audience. Conducted by Raphaël Pichon, the fine cast includes Stanislas de Barbeyrac as Tamino, Thomas Oliemans as Papageno and Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night.

A new Dido and Aeneas is presented by the festival in partnership with its academy. Vincent Huguet directs Purcell’s masterpiece with young South African soprano Kelebogile Pearl Besong as Dido and Tobias Greenhalgh as Aeneas.

Among the concerts and recitals that complete the Aix programme, don’t miss Stéphane Degout’s recital with Alain Planès and the Arod Quartet’s exploration of the figure of Mathilde Zemlinsky as muse. The latter features works by Mathilde’s brother, Alexander, her husband, Arnold Schoenberg, and Anton Webern, who persuaded her to abandon her lover and return to Schoenberg. Sabine Devieilhe joins the Arod for Schoenberg’s String Quartet no. 2, a work that broke the genre’s boundaries and composed at a time when Mathilde had run away with the artist Richard Gerstl.


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Article sponsored by Agir publicité