The Festival d'Aix en Provence

Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix en Provence logoAix's Festival of Lyric Art is one of the cultural highlights of the year in Provence and its open-air performances in the balmy midsummer nights are magical occasions. The dates of the 2014 Festival d'Aix are 2-24 July.

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Since 2007, the Director of the Le Festival international d'art lyrique d'Aix en Provence - to give it its full name - has been the Belgian organist, composer and opera director Bernard Foccroulle.

The Festival has flourished under his lead and Foccroulle's appointment has been renewed until 2017.

The Festival d'Aix has not been immune from the financial crisis, however, and the 2014 programme will feature only three operas instead of the usual five.

And one of these, Mozart's The Magic Flute, is not a world premiere but has been staged in Amsterdam in December 2012 and in London by the English National Opera in December 2013. Simon McBurney, pictured below, directs while Pablo Heras-Casado leads the orchestra and the production will be given ten performances at the Grand Théâtre de Provence.

Simon McBurneyHandel's opera seria Ariodante, has a cast including Sara Connolly, Patricia Petibon, Sandrine Piau, Sonia Prina and Bernard Richter, while Richard Jones directs and Andrea Marcon conducts.

Gioachino Rossini's opera buffa Il Turco in Italia will be directed by Christopher Alden while Marc Minkowski will conduct the Musiciens du Louvre. Both these two productions will be staged at the Archbishop's Palace.

The 2014 Festival d'Aix line-up is completed by two smaller-scale "musical spectacles", which feature multi-media visualisations to accompany sung works. One is Schubert's Lieder cycle Die Winterreise, directed by the South African artist William Kentridge with the baritone Matthias Goerne and the pianist Markus Hinterhäuser.

The other will be Trauernacht, a Bach cantata staged by Britain's Katie Mitchell and performed by the conductor Raphaël Pichon and the singers and musicians of the Académie Européenne de Musique.

Written on Skin in world premiere at the Festival d'Aix en ProvenceBoth Kentridge and Mitchell appeared recently in Aix, Kentridge with The Nose in 2011 and Mitchell with Written on Skin in 2012 and The House Taken Over in 2013. Pictured: Barbara Hannigan and Bejun Mehta in Written on Skin.

The London Symphony Orchestra has now completed its three-year residency and is replaced in 2014 by the Freiburger Barockorchester.

Three new works inspired by the surrealist poet René Char have been commissioned from the German composer Manfred Trojahn and the cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras has carte blanche to give concerts and recitals with musicians of his choice, including Alexandre Tharaud and the brothers Keyvan and Bijan Cherimani.

And a concert version of Jean-Philippe Rameau's opera Les Boréades, featuring young singers selected by the Académie Européenne de Musique, will be performed to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. Marc Minkowski conducts.

Among other highlights, the World Orchestra for Peace will give a concert to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War and there will be tributes to Patrice Chéreau, who died last year shortly after directing a highly acclaimed production of Richard Strauss' Elektra at the 2013 Festival.

Click here for the website for the Festival d'Aix.

The main theme in 2013 was the Mediterranean. Foccroulle notes that the Festival d'Aix has often been oriented towards northern Europe. In 2013 it turned towards the south. In fact, all the operas in the programme had Mediterranean settings.

Elektra retells the classical Greek myth of Electra and Agamemnon and Chéreau's raw and passionate production was one of the festival's hottest tickets. The cast featured Evelyn Herlitzius, Waltraud Meier, Adrienne Pieczonka and Mikhail Petrenko. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the Orchestre de Paris.

George Gagnidze sings Rigoletto in Aix en ProvenceHelen of Troy is the heroine of Elena, a lost opera by Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) which was created for the 1659 Venice carnival and has never been performed since. Jean-Yves Ruf directed.

Italy was the backdrop for two more operas. Directed by Robert Carsen, Rigoletto was performed in the Archbishop's Palace to celebrate the bicentenary of Verdi's birth. George Gagnidze, pictured, sang the title role.

And the festival's traditional Mozart event was a reprise of Dmitri Tcherniakov's unconventional 2010 production of Don Giovanni.

The line-up of operas was completed by a new piece from Portugal, La Casa Tomada (The House Taken Over) by the young composer Vasco Mendoça.

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Insider Tip for the Aix Music FestivalThe Festival d'Aix also includes educational and youth programmes and a hot tip for younger visitors is Le PASS, available from the Festival box-office, which gives free access to almost 50 events for anyone under the age of 30. Music-lovers over 30 can buy Le PASS for 15 €uros.

A further offshoot of the aim to broaden the Festival's audiences are projects to transmit some performances live by satellite to international venues, as well as to stage others in venues outside the centre of Aix.

And if you are in Aix in June, don't worry about missing out: an innovation in 2013 has been a curtain-raising event, Aix en Juin, which offered a programme of some two dozen concerts and masterclasses, many of them either free, or free if you buy Le PASS.

The success of the first edition of Aix en Juin has led to plans to repeat it in 2014, when the event will be themed around Rossini.

Aix en Juin reaches its climax with Parade[s], a traditional open-air concert - also free - on the Cours Mirabeau at the end of June, just before the start of the Festival d'Aix proper. This year's Parade[s] is held at 9.45pm on 29 June and features music from Rossini's Il Turco in Italia and Le Barbier de Seville as well as from Rameau's Boréades.

A THUMBNAIL HISTORY

The first Aix Festival took place in an extraordinary cultural landscape. On her knees in the aftermath of the Second World War, France was fighting to regain her identity and self-respect with a stream of prestigious new arts events.

The Cannes Film Festival was created in 1946; Avignon followed in 1947. And in 1948 Gabriel Dussurget, a music enthusiast from Paris, joined forces with Countess Lily Pastré, a remarkable woman who had sheltered dozens of dissident, mainly Jewish musicians and artists at the Château Pastré, her estate in Marseille, during the war.

After the war Dussurget persuaded the wealthy Countess to finance an opera and classical music festival in Aix, then a lovely but quiet backwater known as the region's Sleeping Beauty.

The Festival d'Aix at the Archbishop's PalaceA minor scandal was created by the opening line-up on a pocket handkerchief stage in the great open-air courtyard of the former Archevêché (the mediaeval Archbishop's Palace, pictured ) next to the Cathedral in the Old Town of Aix en Provence.

It featured a German orchestra (Südwestfunk), an Austrian conductor (Hans Rosbaud) and an opera, Cosi fan tutte, by another of Hitler's countrymen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

But there could be few more beautiful ways of celebrating the healing and unifying power of music, and WAM has been a cornerstone of the Festival ever since.

Sets and production designs from past festivals are on display in the Musée des Tapisseries within the Archbishop's Palace.

Today, for over three weeks each July, the Festival d'Aix still takes over virtually the whole city, forming a quartet of midsummer arts festivals in Provence alongside the Festival d'Avignon (theatre), the a-part Festival of Contemporary Art in the Alpilles, a relative newcomer, and the Rencontres d'Arles (photography).

The Archbishop's Palace remains the flagship venue for the Festival d'Aix, but it also spills over to many other locations, from the Théâtre de Provence, the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume and the Hôtel Maynier d'Oppède to the place des Quatre Dauphins in the Mazarin Quarter and even the Cours Mirabeau.

The beauty and variety of settings on offer are one of the Festival's most potent attractions. Added to that, the compactness of the inner city lends an intimacy to the event.

Robert Lepage's production of The Nightingale in AixNumerous international figures have appeared at the Festival d'Aix, including Peter Brook - who directed a memorable Don Giovanni there in 1998 - the dance choreographer Pina Bausch and the conductor Simon Rattle.

Among the guests in recent years have been the Canadian Robert Lepage, whose remarkable, waterlogged production of Stravinsky's The Nightingale, pictured, was a highlight in 2010 and went on to tour venues worldwide. South Africa's William Kentridge was the guest of honour in 2011 and Britain's George Benjamin topped the bill in 2012.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The Festival d'Aix is based at the former Archevêché (Archbishop's Palace), place de l'Ancien Archevêché, 13100 Aix en Provence. Website for the Festival d'Aix. Telephone, if calling from abroad: (+33) 4 34 08 02 17. Telephone, if calling from within France: 08 20 92 29 23.

The full festival line-up is available to view online in late January. Tickets can be booked online, by phone or in person shortly thereafter.

You can buy tickets in person at the box-office at the Archevêché. In Marseille, they are on sale at the Espace Culture, 42 la Canebière. If you are in France, Belgium or Switzerland, you can also buy tickets for the Festival d'Aix at the chain of FNAC music and book stores.

The Festival d'Aix offers several special packages, such as a three-show deal and a free child's ticket for every accompanying adult at certain shows. Check the Festival website for details.

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Accommodation is at an absolute premium during the Festival, especially if you are planning to be in Aix on or around Bastille Day (14 July). Be sure to reserve well in advance. Click here for tips on where to stay in Aix en Provence and here for tips on where to eat.

Logo Aix Easter FestivalFans of the long-established Festival d'Aix will want to make a diary date for another top-flight celebration of classical music in the city: the Festival de Pâques (Easter Festival). Now in its second year, the 2014 Easter Festival takes place from 14 to 27 April.

Under the artistic directorship of the violinist Renaud Capuçon, the programme includes the stellar conductors Daniel Harding, Yannick Nezet-Séguin, Ludovic Morlot and Gustavo Dudamel.

Among the artists are the violinists Christian Tetzlaff, Alina Pogostkina and James Ehnes, plus the Zimmermann trio, Henri Demarquette, Ophélie Gaillard, Yo-Yo Ma - and Bernard Foccroulle, Capuçon's colleague over at the main Festival d'Aix who will give an organ recital. Capuçon himself will perform a newly commissioned piece by Bruno Montovani.

The Festival will focus on the composers Richard Strauss and Franz Schubert and other work featured will include Mahler's Symphony No. 9 performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and conducted by its musical director, Myung-Whun Chung. Also on the programme: Bach's Saint John Passion and Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony. Website for the Aix Easter Festival

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