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The finest opera in France

The finest opera in France

18 Jun 2014 BY Tim Wells

The Théâtre Antique d’Orange has been described as “a classical edifice from one of the most civilized epochs of humanity”. It dates from the Roman empire of Caesar Augustus, and under his gaze the annual summer festival Les Chorégies d’Orange transports its audience far and wide through the magic of opera. Dramatic tales from Pharaonic Egypt to the cigar factories of Seville, from Commodore Perry’s Japan to the burning halls of Valhalla are set against the original 37-metre high stage wall, designed for and providing an excellent acoustical backdrop for 8,300 entranced spectators. The theatre at Orange was built in the first century BC, and here as elsewhere was at the heart of provincial Roman life, but over the centuries was variously abandoned and abused, before being restored in the early 19th century. In 1869 a dramatic arts festival was begun, mainly to present classical Roman and Greek works, as well as contemporary French plays. Portentously, the first festival also included a performance of the opera “Joseph” by Méhul. The festival was renamed the Chorégies in 1902, and since 1969 has been almost exclusively devoted to opera, punctuated by instrumental and vocal recitals. The list of performers, conductors, and especially opera stars who have performed at the Chorégies is a true Who’s Who of the music world.