Monday, February 17, 2014

The Insiders' Guide to the 2014 Festival d'Aix


Opera lover Anne-Marie Simons left her native Holland early for the United States. She worked as a translator, language teacher, journalist, sports writer covering Formula One races, and director of corporate communications. She retired in Europe and has been living in Aix-en-Provence since 1998 with her Argentine husband Oscar Rodriguez-Rozic, who left a career in international development banking to become an expert on Provençal cooking. As Oscar took over the kitchen, Anne-Marie began to record her experiences and impressions of France its attractions, its quirks, its quality of life resulting in her delightful 2011 book Taking Root in ProvenceIn her blog Provence Today she reports on political and current events in and around France. Having attended the Festival d'Aix for many years, Anne-Marie knows all the ins and outs. So I asked her to give us the scoop and this is what she sent. 

True opera lovers seem to have one thing in common: they won't let money or distance keep them from seeing their favorite singers or conductors. This may mean planning their summer vacations around some of the opera festivals in Europe, such as Bayreuth, Verona, Salzburg, Glyndebourne or Aix-en-Provence.

Wagnerians put up with a waiting list of five to ten years for the chance to get a seat in Wagner's very own Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, where they'll happily sit through five-hour afternoon performances, in formal dress, and have beer and sausages during intermission. Glyndebourne, an English country house in Sussex, is more relaxed and allows for picnic dinners on the lawns. And then there is Aix, perhaps most accessible of all, with four different venues in town and one lovely country setting some 10 km away.

Founded in 1948 as an all-Mozart event, the Festival d'Aix still opens with a Mozart opera every year but has long since widened its scope and today covers opera from its earliest beginnings (Monteverdi) to the present. It also has established an Académie Européenne de Musique, where young musicians get a chance to work with great teachers in Master Classes for Voice, String Instruments, Piano, Composition, etc. and perform before a live audience in evening concerts. The participation of these Academy students, winners of an international competition, adds an element of youthful enthusiasm to this opera festival. 

One of the most attractive aspects of the Aix festival is the rich menu of daily musical offerings throughout the city, with opera, concerts, Master Classes, conferences, interviews, and, at the end of the day, performances by the Academy singers or instrumentalists in the intimate setting of city squares and courtyards. A mere €15 buys you a Passport that gives access to all this for the duration of the festival.

This year the Aix opera season runs from July 2-24, with the following program:

- The Magic Flute by Mozart
- Ariodante by Haendel
- Il Turco in Italia by Rossini
- Winterreise from the song cycle by Schubert
- Trauernacht, Bach cantatas

Tickets went on sale February 3rd, online, by phone and at the box office. Priced from €30 to €240, tickets sell briskly, especially the less-expensive ones. They're sold in three batches on three different dates. Should you miss these dates, keep checking online and if all else fails, try your luck on the day of the performance when the box office (at the building known as the Archevêché) sells same-day tickets at half price (usually the more expensive ones). Or go directly to the performance venue in hopes of finding people selling their tickets.

The €15 Passport can be purchased at any time, even just before the Master Classes or the Academy concerts, which you can attend on a space-available basis (expect long lines). Ever since the creation of the Académie Européenne in 1998, its Master Classes have been extremely popular since they provide a unique opportunity for a wide public to see established musicians teach the finer points of their art to music school graduates who are just beginning their professional careers as singers, instrumentalists and composers. It's the up close and personal observation of a master at work as he/she fine-tunes the technique and interpretation of a young artist. 

Past master-teachers have included Teresa Berganza for Voice, Isaac Stern for Violin and Pierre Boulez for Conducting and Percussion, to name just a few. Master Classes take place several times a week, usually from noon to 1 pm at the Hôtel Maynier d'Oppède near the Cathedral. All classes are conducted in English.

The 2014 Master Class program has just been announced and is longer than ever before. Where the June Master Classes used to end with the start of the July operas, this year they begin on June 2nd and will run throughout the opera season until July 27th.

In addition to the operas and Academy-related events, a dozen concerts and recitals will take place during the Aix festival, performed by international orchestras including the World Orchestra for Peace, which was founded by Sir Georg Solti in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. Today under the baton of Valery Gergiev, the World Orchestra, with its musicians drawn from more than 60 orchestras in 35 countries, will perform the 2014 UNESCO Concert for Peace to commemorate the start of World War I. 

To paraphrase Shakespeare, in July "All Aix is a stage..." and you just might meet some of the players. Famous singers, conductors, stage directors and of course musicians...you'll see them all over town...hurrying to appointments or taking a break on a shady terrace...this too is part of our Opera Festival. Lucky us!

For all the info, click here (festival-aix.com). 

Photos: (1) The Archevêché, where the opera season opens and closes. (2) Verdi's Rigoletto, staged by Robert Carsen in 2013. (3) Stravinski's Le Rossignol, staged by Robert Lepage in 2013. 

4 comments:

  1. Julie, how much I wish I were there...
    I look forward to my April vacation in Cannes and I think on my way I will make a stop in Aix.
    Have a great week!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I absolutely love the Opera. Love the photos. Would love to save up enough to go in 2015. Thanks.

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