Editorial by Pierre Audi

Since the cancelation of this past edition, replaced by #THEDIGITALSTAGE, the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence has expanded its ambitions for its 2021 edition, which we hope will be exceptional. We all have an urgent need to enjoy beauty and art together, live, in the present—even though we do not yet know what tomorrow will bring.

We are therefore proposing eight new productions and a concert-version of one opera, covering a wide range of eras and styles, from Monteverdi, Cavalli and Rossi to contemporary creations, and including Mozart, with The Marriage of Figaro; the two giants of nineteenth-century opera—Wagner, with Tristan und Isolde, to be performed for the first time at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, and Verdi, with I due Foscari and Falstaff—and the twentieth century and the Russian repertoire, thanks to Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel.
Today’s music, vigorously championed by the “Incises” series, has a special place of honour, with two world premieres: Innocence, a multiplot opera with a thriller slant, by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, and The Arab Apocalypse, a modern oratorio by the Israeli-Palestinian composer Samir Odeh-Tamimi that allegorizes the terrible cataclysm of the Lebanese Civil War, a ceaseless tragedy with global repercussions. Woman at Point Zero, a poignant appeal for the emancipation of women by the Lebanese composer Bushra El-Turk, will also be performed as a French creation.

These works deal directly with contemporary issues (the angst of living in a meaningless Western world, the endless succession of cataclysms in the Middle East, the precarity of women’s status in society…), but offer more than just a troubling portrayal of the topics in question. Their music, which mixes languages and styles (erudite vs. popular, Western vs. non-Western…), suggests that dialogue between cultures—the catalyst for a better world—is indeed possible.

Desire—the flip side of the death drive—is a theme that runs through much of the programme. Should one be consumed by it or control it? A Dionysian spirit can spark an excessiveness capable of making you both climax and suffer, but it also instils vitality, humour and enchantment in our operas—even though fantasy in its purest form will sometimes turn ugly.

More generally, the various works are about the sometimes-destructive interplay of seduction and power that can develop between men and women. Artists and stage directors, however, offer hope for a more egalitarian society and for a brighter sense of community in the future.

It takes the greatest artists available to do justice to these works, including friends of the Festival, such as Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, who will be making their big return, and Daniele Rustioni, with the Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon; and prestigious newcomers, like Barrie Kosky and Simon Stone— both “in residency” for two premieres—, Susanna Mälkki, Thomas Hengelbrock conducting the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble, Lotte de Beer, and Silvia Costa and Sébastien Daucé with Ensemble Correspondances.
Women are at the heart of this edition, including composers Kaija Saariaho and Bushra El-Turk, stage directors Lotte de Beer et Silvia Costa, and conductors Susanna Mälkki et Kanako Abe.
We have the Finnish novelist Sofi Oksanen to thank for the libretto of Innocence; while that of The Arab Apocalypse was inspired by the visionary epic poem by the Lebanese-American poet and painter Etel Adnan; and the thought-provoking novel by the Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi served as the basis for the libretto of Woman at Point Zero, and has given four women from Africa—the composer Bushra El-Turk, plus Laila Soliman, Stacy Hardy and Aida Elkashef—the desire to promote a different expression of women’s voices in opera.

The increasingly ambitious offer of concerts and recitals provides additional context for the programme of operas, thus enriching the construction of meaning and pleasure. To the great conductors and orchestras mentioned above, we should add the young prodigy Klaus Mäkelä, conducting the Orchestre de Paris, and Duncan Ward, the new musical director of the Mediterranean Youth Orchestra, with an engaged musical programme.
Two exceptional artists will be the focus of specific portraits: Kaija Saariaho, whose multi-faceted suggestive art we will be exploring, and the charismatic violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, in very diverse genres.
Certain operas that have been programmed represent the epitome of music in theatrical form, and require the greatest voices and best actorsingers in their troupes. Over the course of the recitals and concerts, you will discover or rediscover Nina Stemme, Stéphane Degout and Magdalena Kožená, but also Barbara Hannigan or Jakub Józef Orliński in never-before-seen programmes. In terms of Mediterranean music—so important for the Festival—the jazz saxophonist Sophie Alour will be performing in a sextet, after the Cairo Jazz Station ensemble, which originated in an MYO intercultural session; and the Tenores di Bitti will be sharing their most beautiful Sardinian polyphonic vocalisations.

But the Festival also encompasses the rich and diverse events of Aix en Juin, which is now entirely free, with the “Opéra de-ci de-là” initiative, a series of short-form operas performed in various locations throughout the city, which this year showcase strong female figures; the large Parade[s] concert on the cours Mirabeau, devoted to Verdi; and the public master classes and concerts of the Académie, whose innovative residencies aim to support the newest generation in their professional development. Also worth noting are the pilot projects of Passerelles, the educational and socio-artistic department of the Festival, with the large participative project “Accents Balkans” in this edition.

The Festival proudly announces a new partnership with Luma Arles, where The Arab Apocalypse will be performed. More generally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our partners and coproducers, as well as our public and corporate sponsors, who have provided unfailing support during this difficult period and have helped the Festival offer this extremely rich “revival” programme, which will be echoed in original and inventive ways through #THEDIGITALSTAGE.

We look forward to seeing you again, dear festival goers, and will do everything we can to welcome you under the best possible conditions, so that we may rejoice and reflect together, imagine the world of tomorrow, and dream of a brighter future.

Have a great 2021 Festival!

Pierre Audi