Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix en Provence logoAix's Festival of Lyric Art is a cultural highlight in Provence and its open-air performances in the balmy midsummer nights are magical occasions. The dates of the 2019 Festival are 3-22 July.

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The Director of the Festival international d'art lyrique d'Aix en Provence - to give it its full name - is the French-Lebanese stage director Pierre Audi, who will preside over his first edition in 2019.

Monsieur Audi is known for his progressive productions at the Dutch National Opera, which he led for three decades. He is leaving that post to focus on the Aix Festival, but continues in another of his roles, as the Artistic Director of the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Click here for the website for the Festival d'Aix.

The previous Director of the Aix Festival, from 2007-2018, was the Belgian organist, composer and opera director Bernard Foccroulle, who built up a reputation for bold and often challenging work. He is now concentrating on his own writing and performances.

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. In addition to all this, Aix's Festival de Pâques (Easter Festival) is becoming increasingly important.

THE FESTIVAL D'AIX IN 2019

Monsieur Audi has revealed the initial line-up for his first year as Director of the Aix Festival and it contains several firsts and surprises.

wolfgang amadeus mozartThe programme traditionally includes a work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, pictured, and this year it is his Requiem, with a twist: it is being presented in a staged version. Romeo Castellucci directs Raphaël Pichon's Pygmalion Ensemble.

Puccini will be present in Aux for the first time, with a production of Tosca. Christophe Honoré directs and Daniele Rustiou conducts.

In contrast to Foccroulle's festivals, which stronglyfavoured early music, there is no baroque opera in Aix in 2019. Instead the line-up is completed by four contemporary works. Andrea Breth directs the relatively unknown chamber piece Jakob Lenz by Wolfgang Rihm.

Blank Out is a another chamber opera, by Holland's Michel van der Aa. Based on the life and writings of the South African poet Ingrid Jonker, it was previously staged at the Park Avenue Armory in 2017.

The Festival will offer the world premiere of an opera torn from today's headlines: The Sleeping Thousand explores the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The music is by Adam Maor and the libretto, in Hebrew, by Yonathan Levy, who also directs.

Maor served a two year prison sentence in 2002-2004 for refusing to join the Israeli army as a conscientious objector, so his vision is likely to be provocative.

A 20th century classic completes the line-up: Kurt Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The stellar artistic line-up features Ivo van Hove (director) and Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor).

Click here to read about the Aix Music Festival in 2014, in 2015, in 2016, in 2017 and in 2018.

Insider Tip for the Aix Music FestivalThe 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.

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 20 €uros.

A further offshoot of the aim to broaden the Festival's audiences are projects to transmit some performances live by satellite to regional and 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.

Parades free promenade concert in Aix en ProvenceAimed at locals but open to everyone, many of these are either free, or free if you buy Le PASS.

They're held both in the city centre and at atmospheric locations all over the surrounding area, including the Fondation Vasarely and the beautiful Abbaye de Silvacane.

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. 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.

Musique dans la rue smallAnd, just to prove it's not over till it's over, Aix manages to pack in one last little music festival before the end of the summer.

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.

Alas, the continuing terrorist threat overshadowing France mean that it's currently not possible to hold spontaneous performances in the streets, as was the tradition in previous years.

Instead, they take place in a handful of closely supervised venues (arrive early to be sure of a seat). All kinds of sounds are represented from baroque and classical to jazz, rock and Latin vibes.

Logo Aix Easter FestivalAnd serious classical music fans will want to make a diary date for another top-flight celebration in the city: the annual Festival de Pâques (Easter Festival). In 2019 it runs from 13-28 April.

Under the artistic directorship of the violinist Renaud Capuçon, this new event, first launched in 2013, has very quickly gone from strength to strength.

Thanks to continuing sponsorship from the CIC bank, it already attracts artists of international calibre and is expanding its activities into venues all across town. In 2018 it notched up over 25000 admissions.

The 2019 edition of the Aix Easter Music Festival has been extended by an extra weekend and offers 27 concerts. The box-office is now open and tickets start from ten €uros.

The opening concert features film music with Capuçon leading the Orchestre de l'Opéra de Lyon. Among the other highlights: Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion performed by the Ensemble vocal et instrumental de Lausanne and all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos played by Rudolf Buchbinder and the Staatskapelle Dresden.

Watch out too for three days of guest events from the Mozartwoche in Salzburg. The prestigious closing concert features leading artists such as the soprano Christiane Karg, the violinist Christoph Koncz and the cellist Victor Julien-Laferrière.

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 Festival d'Aix at the Archbishop's PalaceThe 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

booking.com logoClick 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. AirBnB is always an option, of course: click here to get a 25 €uro discount on your first booking. Click here for tips on where to stay in Aix en Provence and here for tips on where to eat.

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