Aix'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.
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Since 2007, the Director of the 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 dates of the 2017 Festival d'Aix are 3-22 July.
The Festival has flourished under Foccroulle's lead, building up a reputation for bold and sometimes challenging work, and his appointment has been renewed until 2018. Click here for the website for the Festival d'Aix.
Monsieur Foccroulle is not reapplying for the Directorship when his current tenure expires in order to devote more time to his own projects.
Instead, the stage director Pierre Audi will take over at the Festival d'Aix for five years, starting in September 2018. Monsieur Audi is known for his progressive work at the Dutch National Opera, which he has led for three decades.
He will be leaving that post when he becomes the Director of the Aix Festival, but will continue in another of his existing roles, as the Artistic Director of the Park Avenue Armory in New York.
Aix also has a packed programme of concerts. And, just to keep the music going all summer, the city has more mini music events in June and August: Aix en Juin, Les Nuits Pianistiques and Musique dans la Rue.
THE FESTIVAL D'AIX IN 2017
The opening night at the Aix Festival in 2017 will be the world premiere of Pinocchio, a new work by Philippe Boesmans based on the play by Joël Pommerat. The musical director is Emilio Pomerico and the cast includes Chloé Briot and Stéphane Degout.
The festival's current Stravinsky cycle concludes with its third production by this composer: The Rake's Progress, directed by Simon McBurney, pictured, with Paul Appleby as Tom Rakewell.
A new production of Carmen directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov has Stéphanie d'Oustrac in the title role and Michel Fabiano as Don José.
The festival's annual Mozart opera will be Don Giovanni, directed by Jean-François Sivadier, with Philippe Sly and Isabel Leonard. Jérémie Rhorer is the musical director.
Francesco Cavalli's Erismena is performed by Francesca Aspromonte under the musical direction of Leonardo García Alarcon. The main line-up is completed by a concert performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin by the Bolshoi Theatre, with Tugan Sokhiev conducting.
The Festival d'Aix has a reputation of being aimed at a moneyed elite, and there's certainly some truth in this. Ticket prices for the flagship opera productions can easily run to several hundred €uros (though that didn't stop performances from playing to over 93% capacity in 2015).
However there are also plenty of free and low-cost spectacles too 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 outside the centre of Aix.
And if you are in Aix outside the main Festival dates, don't worry about missing out. Since 2013 the city has held a curtain-raising event, Aix en Juin, which offers a programme of some two dozen concerts and masterclasses.
Aimed at locals but open to everyone, many of these are either free, or free if you buy Le PASS.
Aix en Juin reaches its climax with Parade[s], a very popular - and free - open-air promenade concert, pictured, on the Cours Mirabeau, just before the start of the Festival d'Aix proper. Click here for the full programme for Aix en Juin.
Soon after the main Festival ends there's yet more music again. A programme of piano concerts by top international performers, Les Nuits Pianistiques, starts in early August. Modestly priced, they're at the city's brand new music academy building, the Conservatoire Darius Milhaud. Website for Les Nuits Pianistiques in Aix en Provence.
Also organised by the Conservatoire, Musique dans la rue (Music in the Street) is a series of over a hundred free open-air concerts all across town in the early evening at the very end of August.
There's music in the courtyard of the Town Hall, on the place Jeanne d'Arc at the bottom of the Cours Mirabeau, on dozens of café terraces and more locations in the centre of Aix and in outlying villages. All kinds of sounds are represented from baroque and classical to jazz and Latin vibes.
Under the artistic directorship of the violinist Renaud Capuçon, this new event, first launched in 2013, has very quickly gone from strength to strength. It already attracts artists of international calibre and is expanding its activities into venues all across town.
The 2016 programme spotlighted the art of the violin, with many world-class musicians, notably the great, 92-year-old Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis. He performed alongside the likes of Martha Argerich, Khatia Buniatishvili, Renaud Capuçon, Guillaume Chilemme, Maxim Vengerov, Adrien La Marca and Edgar Moreau.
Also on the menu: the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Paul Lewis, Yo-Yo Ma, Emmanuel Pahud and more. Click here for the website of the Aix Easter Festival.
A THUMBNAIL HISTORY
The first Aix Festival took place in an extraordinary cultural landscape. France was on her knees in the aftermath of the Second World War and 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. This remarkable woman had sheltered dozens of dissidents, 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 opening performance took place on a tiny 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.
The line-up created a minor scandal. 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 prestigious, if more mainstream Chorégies d'Orange (opera and classical music), the Festival d'Avignon (theatre) and the Rencontres d'Arles (photography).
The Archbishop's Palace remains the iconic venue for the Festival d'Aix, but it also spills over to many other locations, from the Grand 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.
Numerous 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.
Other artists who had successes at the festival include Robert Carsen, also from Canada, South Africa's William Kentridge, Britain's George Benjamin, Katie Mitchell and Simon McBurney and Peter Sellars from the US.
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 on in late January and tickets go on sale online, by phone or at the Archevêché itself at this time.
The Festival d'Aix offers several special packages, such as a free child's ticket for every accompanying adult at certain shows. Check the Festival website for details of what's on offer this year.
Click here to book a hotel in Aix en Provence
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), which is a public holiday in France. 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.