In honour of the 25th anniversary of the Académie du Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, artists recount their time at the Académie. Whether they participated in a vocal residency; a chamber music residency; or a residency focused on reflection, experimentation and creation, each artist looks back at the influence the Académie has had on their artistic life and the opportunities it has opened up for them in their subsequent career.
My connection with the Festival d’Aix began with the performance of my symphonic music by the Youth Mediterranean Orchestra back in 2017. This connection was then reinforced through my invitation to join the Académie and its Women Opera Makers Workshop, led by Katie Mitchell. Ever since, I have been engaging artistically not only with Aix but with other ENOA institutions too: La Monnaie/De Munt for instance supported and enhanced my creative project, a vocal drama that brings together the symphony orchestra, a solo singer and young voices. This year, I am delighted to return to Aix and to the main programme, with a new work for a particular, unusual and exciting combination of instruments and voices, commissioned by the Festival. This had been an excellent opportunity to work closely with wonderful colleagues, but also, to delve deeper into the concept of the drame vocal, exploring it this time in a chamber ensemble setting.
Singer and curator
I have appeared at the Festival in opera or concert every summer since I did take part to the Mozart Residency of the Académie in 2017 -- Aix has become an important musical home! Two defining moments were having five performances of my daring recital project about Empire and Identity, with the pianist Kunal Lahiry in 2021 (The Power and the Glory, which has since been picked up by Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Hall!), and singing Ottavia in L'Incoronazione di Poppea in 2022. The team at Aix has played an important role in supporting my creative vision and investing in my professional development over the last few years!
It’s difficult for me to pick just one memory among the myriad wonderful moments I’ve experienced at the Festival d’Aix since I participated in the Académie in 2017. If I had to choose one, it would perhaps be my experience during my first stage production at the Festival, playing the role of Ottone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea in 2022, in the intimate atmosphere of the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume. It was an exceptional two-month parenthesis, a timeless journey, and an unforgettable collective adventure, in which all the singers forged genuine friendships that continue to this day. Ted Huffman’s incredibly powerful and poetic staging, based on a group spirit, and the almost animalistic approach to Monteverdi’s music that Leonardo García Alarcón strived to convey to each of us, undoubtedly contributed to the overall experience. It’s an adventure I will never forget.
Conductor and pianist
I first took part in the Académie in 2010, where I was able to work with Helmut Deutsch and Emmanuel Olivier. Two years later, the festival team gave me a wonderful opportunity: to take part in the creation of Written on Skin, an opera that made me grow as a theater musician. Since then, I've always seen the academy as the beating heart of the Festival, even if one could always wish for more correspondence. Whether I take part or not, I'm always interested in the Academy's activities. These are spaces that have enabled me to meet artists and, above all, singers from all over the world. Artists I wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to meet. The Académie allows me to step outside my usual circuit. Long live the Académie!
Composer, violinist, musician
This week spent at the workshop opened my eyes on the universality of the problems I have been dealing with in my own work - behind closed doors, after a tour, after a premiere, after a workshop. I now realize there is a way to name and describe them, and ways to address them and tame them. It was equally humbling and heartening to hear the testimonies of so many of my peers, and how much our experiences align and have scarred us just the same. I also now realize that strength lies in numbers and in the sharing and crossing of our experiences. The timing of this workshop could not come any better, at this pivotal point in my career and in my life; as I approach the big milestone that is my debut opera, I feel better equipped, and much better prepared on all fronts. I'm extremely grateful for the friendships made in this context of vulnerability and openness, and that I know will last for a long time. I'm grateful to have met Katie, an artist I have admired from afar for a long time, for her work, convictions and commitment - It is extremely empowering to get to work up close with her. And for all the connections throughout the week, some that have already sparked conversations about collaborations and that have been going on ever since, including invitations for concerts and possibilities of coproductions and productions.
The Festival enabled me to not only meet future collaborators, but to do this in a creatively rich atmosphere; going to concerts and watching operas together fueled our dialogues and I now have some wonderful colleagues in the realm of opera.
Stephanie Childress benefited from the first edition of the Women Conductor Mentorship in 2021.
Author, stage director, actress
My participation in the 2021 Women Opera Makers Workshop, mentored by Katie Mitchell, was a highlight of my time at the Académie. Engaging in open dialogues with other women from different parts of the world, building trust, sharing techniques, discussing the challenges we face, and envisioning our professional futures was a true catalyst. Since then, I have co-written my first librettos as part of the Opera de-ci de-là initiative, taken the leap into stage directing, and remained in touch with other participants with whom I am cultivating joint projects in the field of opera.
The Académie du Festival d’Aix gave me two great loves: playwright Cordelia Lynn and writer & philosopher Simon(e) van Saarloos. We were young and uninitiated into the (sometimes light sometimes blight) world of opera making. 7 years later, Cordelia and I are working on a second opera, and Simon(e) and I are working on an article about opera.
Sivan and Cordelia premiered Like Flesh at Opéra de Lille in 2022. They are working on their second opera, The Ice Palace, for 2027. Simon(e) van Saarloos’ article, which traces their conversations with Sivan around the subject of opera making, will be published this summer in the review of the French Academy in Rome - Villa Medici.
Marie-Laure Garnier & Célia Oneta Bensaid
Vocal and piano duo
Our first visit to this legendary festival in 2018 greatly inspired us, elevated our standards, and heightened our aspirations, thanks in particular to baritone Stéphane Degout and pianist Alain Planès. Having the opportunity to develop the chamber music aspect of our singing with piano in this context allowed us to identify our uniqueness, all in the presence of the greatest artists. We retain an especially unforgettable memory of our collaborative work with composer Kaija Saariaho on her Quatre instants.
Marie-Laure Garnier and Célia Oneto-Bensaïd participated in the Art of the Recital Residency in 2018 and were invited back for a recital in 2020, which was broadcast on Arte as part of The Digital Stage of the Festival d’Aix.
Musician and transdisciplinary artist
There were two decisive encounters for me during my participation in the Académie du Festival d’Aix. The first one was with the singer Élise Chauvin, during the 2021 edition of Opéra de-ci de-là (a residency that unites artists, creators and performers for collective research and creation). Élise joined my company Le Furor Poetico after we met in Aix. She has been working with me on my solo performance, and we are nurturing the idea of co-writing a production. The second encounter was with the multidisciplinary artist Julie Hega, during the 2022 edition of Opéra de-ci de-là. Our two companies share a sisterhood and different affinities, which means we will eventually work together as well.
Poet and singer
The Académie allowed me to explore, in a sensitive environment, the multiple meanings encompassed by the word “opera”. Thanks to this space for research and inspiration, I have delved into my desire to create new forms, especially through encounters with other artists. Amy Crankshaw and Lili Gomond have become my creative partners, with whom I am now dreaming up an unprecedented form, a “filmopera”; and the very first residency for this project is being born right here, where we first met.
Julie Hega participated in Opera de-ci de-là, a project for collective music and theatrical creation, in 2022. In 2021, she was ‘ a student’ in Kaija Saariaho’s opera Innocence, which premiered at the Festival d’Aix.
Writer and director
I first came to the Aix Académie in 2012 for the Opera Creation workshop. Since that time, I've had the most meaningful experiences of my formation in Aix, from Les mamelles de Tirésias (2013) to Svadba (2015), L'incoronazione di Poppea (2022), to this summer's The Faggots and their Friends Between Revolutions (2023). Aix is that rare place where the place, the people, and the common pursuit of music as theatre make for an unforgettable, magical combination.
As a participant in the Mozart/Haendel Residency of the Académie in 2011, my eyes were opened, and my desire was ignited to play a role in cutting edge opera-making. Cultivating technique, style, and interpretation with world class masters, inside the nucleus of contemporary Opera was integral in giving me the push to begin my career in Europe. I was so fortunate to later come back to the Festival for several projects. I consider Aix to be one of my dearest artistic homes.
Evan Hughes is a former participant of the Mozart/Haendel Residency and has been the invited back to the Festival in the revival of the Midsummer Night’s Dream in Beijing, in the Rake’s Progress in 2017, in a series of recital with pianist Helio Vida, and in the world premiere of Il Viaggio Dante by Pascal Dusapin in 2022.
Writer and poet
My time at the Académie was crucial because it was my first entry point into the world of opera; it allowed me to enter into discussions about artistic and political issues and, later, to feel validated when I was offered the opportunity to write the libretto for the centennial creation of Villa Noailles, in partnership with the Toulon Opera, the following year. I am deeply grateful to the Académie for their intuition!
Simon Johannin participated in the Opera Creation Residency, coordinated by stage director Andrea Breth, in 2021.
Performer and curator
Aix was the beginning of my professional career in a way; it was the first audition of its kind that I had “won”, which helped tremendously with my confidence as a young artist (it also helped bolster my cv when applying to artist programs in the future). More importantly, I met so many incredibly talented and passionate creatives at the Festival who remain part of my musical circle today.
Kunal Lahiry was invited back in Aix for a series of recital with mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron.
Being selected to participate in the Académie du Festival d’Aix has helped me gain confidence and experience. We worked with opera professionals, and were able to discuss our doubts, our work, and our approaches with them. And meeting artists from our generation will open up immense opportunities for the future.
Sérine Mahfoud participated in the Women Opera Makers Workshop in 2022 and is an assistant stage director, working with Daniel Jeanneteau and Marie-Christine Soma on the production of George Benjamin’s new opera Picture a day like this.
Theatre and opera director- writer
My experience with the Académie has confirmed that there is truly space for radical storytelling, diversity and new perspectives in opera. It has provided practical training, mentorship and connections in opera as well as concrete opportunities to create new work that explore race, history and hope - this I am excited to see what new audiences we will be able to reach.
TD Moyo participated in the Women Opera Makers Workshop in 2022 and is benefiting from an Experimental Residency time in Aix this year where she develops her opera project Capot along with a group of six other artists and producers.
Opera and music-theatre director, artiste-curateur et directeur artistique
During my time at the Académie, I gained invaluable knowledge and had the privilege of meeting talented artists and colleagues who became lifelong connections. However, the most significant impact came from the exceptional coaches who exemplified for me the importance of sharing information and experiences across different artists in different stages of their career. This realization motivated me to dedicate a significant portion of my artistic practice to mentoring, tutoring, and educating young artists in the field of opera, recognizing the immense value in guiding and inspiring the next wave of creative minds.
Sjaron Minailo took part of the Opera Creation Workshop in 2015, and is leading mentor of the Immersive Residency this summer.
Quartet / artists
For us, the Académie du Festival d’Aix-en-Provence has mainly been a place for encounters. It was there that we discovered the world of composer Bushra El Turk, whose repertoire we have enjoyed performing ever since. We also forged connections with the Quatuor Diotima, who were mentors for the Chamber Music Residency in which we participated, and who greatly inspired us through their approach to contemporary music.
The Mona Quartet performed the world premiere of Bushra El-Turk’s piece ‘Saffron Dusk’ in Aix — a piece written as a tribute to the victims of the Beirut port explosion in 2020.
The Académie du Festival d’Aix changed everything for me at a pivotal point in my life. By participating in the Académie’s Vocal Residency, I was able to meet Edith Wiens, a voice teacher, who took me under her wing. Thanks to her, I joined the Juilliard School of Music in New York and settled in the city, which eventually led to my winning the Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been accepted to the Académie du Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. I was the youngest artist in residence at the time, and yet I felt people had faith in me! Since then, I’ve been invited back to the Festival many times: in productions like Combattimento: The Black Swan Theory, and L’incoronazione di Poppea, which has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I’m deeply grateful for the trust that the Festival places in its artists and for the loyalty it shows by involving us in productions after we’ve participated in the Académie!
Theater and Opera Director, as well as Dramaturge, Playright, Curator and Educator
Despite being unable to read music, I have always had the dream to direct an opera. As my career evolved, music has always occupied an important place in my performances. This led the French Cultural Center to contact me and offer me a scholarship to join the enoa Summer academy in 2015 for the Opera Creation Workshop. At that point, this invitation just felt like an aimless dream taking shape and a great opportunity to spend some time in Aix, watching and discussing Opera. There, I met Katie Mitchell ,who through a simple starting question, taught me to acknowledge my responsibility and to be more aware of my worth as a woman director looking forward to a more feminist and equal future in Opera. Via the network of the Festival came the idea of working with Lod to collaborate with Bushra Alturk on her opera Woman at Point Zero, a project proudly put in place by a creative team of diverse women from different parts of the world.
Women at Point Zero, Bushra El Turk's opera on a text by Stacy Hardy, after Nawal El Saadawi's novel, was premiered at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in July 2022 under Kanako Abe's baton and in a staging by Laila Soliman.
Sculptress is a production company dedicated to bringing ideas to life within the creative industry. They initially formed in 2018 to address the lack of diversity on and off stage in theatre and then began to branch out into different Mediums. Their mission is to work with upcoming and established artists by producing events, projects, and shows. They believe in the power of ideas and aims is to equip artists with the tools to execute them effectively. They are working on creating a network which will allow us to experiment our work through several mediums like film, theatre and art with the ultimate goal of creating new and exciting experiences. Working with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence for the Experimental Residency has opened our eyes to a whole new world of opera and we are excited to explore the path it takes us on.
I would say that the most significant impact of the Academy on my career comes from the guidance and tools provided by director Katie Mitchell during the Young Women Opera Makers residency (2021–2022), which opened my eyes to many aspects of my profession and gave me confidence in myself. In my approach to new projects, there is clearly a “before” and an “after” this workshop.
Josephine Stephenson participated in a research and development workshop for a music creation project in 2017 with the Van Kuijk Quartet, Bertrand Lesca, and Ben Osborne. She then took part in the Young Women Opera Makers workshop in 2022, a residency supported by the Music Moves Europe programme of Creative Europe.
I first came to Aix to see Ted Huffman’s production of Svadba in 2015, before we had made two opera production, 4.48 Psychosis or Denis & Katya, together. Then I returned in 2019 to take part in the Opera Creation Workshop, and through this I got to know the Festival d’Aix better — it was incredible to see all the shows, talk to the teams and discuss ideas with some wonderfully diverse and exciting artists. This year I’m making a show in the Festival d’Aix for the first time — The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions.
Playwright and librettist
Before the Academie I was mostly writing for theatre. But what I gained when I joined the Young Women Opera Makers Residency was an incredible opportunity and opened the door for me to Opera. I met other opera makers and this has led to a collaboration with a brilliant director, and I am developing a libretto for my first opera. Also, learning from Katie Mitchell was a game changer in terms of the confidence it gave me as an artist, with the skills to not only develop my ideas but to be able to communicate them to others. I developed a good relationship with the Royal Opera House in London, and have continued to make relationships with artistic teams. The confidence it has given me has been very important, especially at this stage in my career.
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