1948: a Festival is born

The very first Festival takes place in July 1948. The programme consists of three or four concerts held in the Archbishop's courtyard, one in St-Sauveur Cathedral and an additional six concerts and recitals in various locations around town. An opera unfamiliar to French audiences of the time, Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, is also thrown into the mix. Human dynamo Gabriel Dussurget not only assembles the cast necessary for the performance but also convinces Georges Wakhevitch to create a back stage set and persuades Hans Rosbaud the head conductor of Baden-Baden's Südwestfunk orchestra to get involved.

It's only the following year however with the performance of Don Giovanni that the Festival really takes off. Gabriel Dussurget twists the arm of another friend, the artist Cassandre, to design stage sets for him. Cassandre commented at the time: ‘the Festival organisers didn't just ask me to design the stage sets for Don Giovanni but also the open air theatre in which to show them off'. The rest is history; a courtyard theatre tradition is born.

Cassandre's theatre and Gabriel Dussurget's magic touch

Cassandre's theatre project begins to take shape under a starry sky – 7 metres of stage with mobile sets fronting a backdrop backed by Italianate stage machinery. The Festival team, comprised mainly of big names from literary and artistic circles in France – musicians, artists, writers and theatre luminaries – is buzzing, all whipped up by same enthusiasm for the endeavour. This melting-pot of activity creates the ideal conditions for meetings, exchanges, projects and collaborations that would seal the Festival's healthy future.

Cassandre's theatre quickly establishes itself as a venue for a varied and growing repertoire of lyric productions and continues in this vein for the next twenty-four years. Mozart's work is performed here, of course, and then from 1951, the original passionate lyricism of Monteverdi and Gluck, some operas-bouffes and the beginnings of comic opera with Cimarosa, Gétry, Rameau and Haydn, Rossini and Gounod, followed by operatic works from our very own century including Menotti, Poulenc, Sauguet, Milhaud, Stravinsky… The 'Dussurget magic' stems from his skill at blending the right musical production with great artists and interpreters tailor-made for the roles as well as having an uncanny knack for unearthing fresh vocal talent and strong stage personalities who were about to become Aix's hottest new stars.

And so the very first Aix-en-Provence Festival is born in a whirl of post-war enthusiasm, and its immediate success ensures its firm place in opera history.

1974 - 1982: The Bernard Lefort era or a coup for Bel Canto

Bernard Lefort steers the Festival towards the delights of Bel Canto, and more generally towards ‘a major celebration of song'. The air in the courtyard resounds to the music of XIXth century Italian song (Verdi, Donizetti) and glamorous Bel Canto stars (Caballé, Carreras, Horne, Ricciarelli…). Bernard Lefort's celebration of song bursts across town, with six years of opera bouffe performances in Quatre-Dauphins Square (with Pergolèse, Cimarosa, Donizzeti…), and even Joan Baez and Ella Fitzgerald taking up the mic in Cardeurs Square.

1982 - 1996: Louis Erlo, eclectic baroque to present day initiatives

With ‘loyalty and innovation' as his watchwords, Louis Erlo gently guides Aix's Bel Canto towards Rossini and makes major changes to the Baroque repertoire by adding Lully, Campra, Rameau and – perhaps more significantly - Purcell and Gluck. Using Mozart as his reference point, he stages new productions of the musician's great works and focuses on lesser known - and rarely performed - pieces written during his youth. His gift to the people of Aix is a glut of fresh new singing talent and a few new ‘stars'. He also flicks the spotlight on ‘jewels' of the XXth century from Prokofiev to Britten.

1998 – 2006: Stéphane Lissner's blast of fresh air

1998 sees Stéphane Lissner's arrival at the helm of the Aix-en-Provence Festival with his heart set on a full renovation programme for the Archbishop Theatre and an opening performance of Don Giovanni. He breathes new life into the Festival with the inauguration of set and costume workshops at Venelles, thus giving the Festival increasing independence from international co-production initiatives. In 1998 he launches the European Music Academy, designed as the teaching arm of the Festival aimed at promoting young new talent (musicians, singers, theatre directors, conductors and composers) and boosting public performances of their work. The Aix-en-Provence Festival continues to be an innovative centre of excellence and key player amongst the lyric institutions with which it collaborates.../...
This biography was most recently edited by...
steven - 6 May 2010