Besides big theaters where opera is known to appear, there are celebrations for composers or regions all over the world that honor the art of the opera. We are going to spend the next few paragraphs talking about some of the opera festivals this whirling marble we call Earth as to offer. In case you missed last week’s post with another 6 festivals of opera, here it is!
1. Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence
Held every Summer in Aix-en-Provence, or Aix, located in the south of France, the Festival is geared primarily towards opera but it also celebrates chamber music, orchestral works, and solos. Starting in 1948, this opera celebration was the brain child of Countess Lily Pastré, a wealthy French woman who enjoyed funding artists. Pastré picked up the entire tab for the first festival, which consisted of a few concerts in the cour de l’Archevêché and the Saint-Sauveur cathedral, and many other places in the city.
That first year of the festival, the organizers added an opera, which was Cos fan tutte, by Mozart and not well known by the French at the time. IT was the next year, in 1949, when they produced Don Giovanni, also by Mozart, that the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence was a roaring success. In more recent years the festival has commissioned new operas like Julie by Philippe Boesmans and classics like Wagner’s Das Rheingold.
2. Bayreuth Festival
Our next festival, Bayreuther Festspiele, is held in, Bayreuth, Germany, a town in northern Bavaria. They predominantly perform works by Richard Wagner and the composer himself encouraged the start of a festival so that his pieces, especially larger works Der Ring des Nibelungen. Bayreuth Festspielhaus is a local theater that was created specifically for this festival and Wagner had a hand in helping with the design.
At the time of the festival’s inception, other towns were considered but Bayreuth had certain amenities that could not be overlooked. One was the Markgräfliches Opernhaus, an opera house from the Baroque era built for Princess Wilhelmine of Prussia, who was the sibling of Frederick the Great, and her husband, Margrave Frederick, who ruled the region at the time.
Also, Bayreuth was looking to expand its cultural influence in the world, which it was sorely lacking at the time. Yet, the most interesting reason why Wagner decided on this little town to host a festival in his name is because it sat external to the districts in Germany where he didn’t possess the official rights to productions of his works. Once Wagner inspected the town and the money was raised the first Bayreuth Festival opened in 1876 on August 13th.
Wagner’s Das Rheingold, which is the first portion of his four-work compilation Der Ring des Nibelungen, was the chosen work to celebrate this opening. Notable people in history traveled long distances to attend including Dom Pedro II, the final leader to rule Brazil as an empire, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who was comrades with Wagner. Tchaikovsky attended claiming that the celebrations were so spectacular that “their children will still remember.”
Of course, the festival changed with the time and, when the Nazi party came into power, the Bayreuth Festival was run by supporters of the party and Adolf Hitler. It is no secret the love Hitler had for Wagner’s compositions and ideologies. When Wagner’s daughter-in-law, Winifred, who took over the running of the festival after her husband died, she supported Nazi supporter and, when Germany was defeated, was given the sentence of probation for her backing of the Third Reich.
Wagner was also forbidden to participate in the production of the Bayreuth Festival. When the Americans occupied Germany, the theater was used for pretty much everything else but Wagner operas. In 1946, the community of Bayreuth regained control of their theater and festival and operas like Madama Butterfly and La traviata were staged more regularly. The festival eventually got up and running again and the featured opera was Wagner’s Parsifal.
If you are looking for tickets to this festival be prepared to wait. With only 58,000 tickets available each season to accommodate the nearly half-million people looking to purchase one.
3. Central City Opera
We are going to head to another continent for this next festival, North America. Based in Central City, Colorado, this festival is held by an American opera institution. The house was built in 1878, when people were hunting for gold in Colorado. yet the festival does not go this far back. Julie Penrose and Anne Evans gave the festival its start in 1932, and since then the Central City festival strives to showcase conventional and contemporary operas.
There are forty shows each festival over a six-week calendar. Some performances are produced especially for younger people. Ten years ago, this opera festival turned seventy-five. Every season one of the most notable ceremonies is the opening event the Yellow Rose Ball, which is the longest running debutante ritual in Colorado.
The festival has also commissioned works including Douglas Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe in 1956 and Henry Mollicone’s The Face on the Barroom Floor in 1978. For the 75th anniversary celebrations the Asian Performing Arts of Colorado commissioned Poet Li Bai, from composer Guo Wenjing.
Another tradition at the Central City Opera is the training program named after the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation. John Moriarty founded the program and it has helped aspiring vocalists train and learn. It is not for the faint of heart though with a curriculum that lasts ten weeks with demanding schedules.
4. Dorset Opera Festival
Located in Bryanston in Dorset, England, this next festival is considered a “country house opera”, which means the performances are staged in a country house. The Dorsett Opera Festival prides themselves on combining performances from professional vocalists and amateurs as well. The festival begins when the summer courses end, which are held at the Bryanston School and educate performers from ages sixteen to twenty-five.
It was founded first by Patrick Shelley in 1974 to be held at the Sherborne School, another school located in Dorset. When Roderick Kennedy was given the position as artistic director in 2005, the festival moved to Bryanston and has been held there ever since. The Coade Hall theater, which is a part of the school, hosts a good deal of performances for the festival as does various locations around the town.
When it was officially named Dorset Opera Festival in 2011, they staged Puccini’s Tosca and Verdi’s Otello. The next year they produced Verdi’s Il trovatore, Puccini’s Suor Angelica, and Lord Berners’ Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrament. La traviata was staged in 2013 along with The Flying Dutchman by Wagner and a Dutch National Touring Opera production of La bohéme.
How about an entire festival for opera, but also musicals, theatre, magic, dance… all online? Learn about the first digital performing arts festival here!