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Chorégies d'Orange




By Patricia Boccadoro

ORANGE, FRANCE, 4 August 2006— Chorégies d'Orange The Antique Theatre of Orange, one of the best preserved Roman theatres in Europe and which is the only one to have conserved its original stage wall, would alone justify a visit to the historical city of Orange founded by the Celts  over 2000 years ago. Today, throngs of tourists meander through the narrow winding streets, small squares, and shady pavement cafés before visiting the amphitheatre, built up against a hill by the Romans in the 1st century B.C., and capable of seating the entire population of the town.

It was the brainchild of Octavius, the future Emperor Augustus whose statue stands in the centre of the magnificent stone wall which serves as backdrop to the stage. Greek theatre, dance, and operas as well as acrobats and jugglers have entertained up to 7000 spectators at a time over the centuries. Finally, after a long period of neglect, the stage was repaired and the amphitheatre restored to re-open with a festival on August 21st, 1869, the forerunner of the current Chorégies of Orange.
It is in fact the oldest festival in France, established well before the festivals of Aix-en-Provence and Avignon, and since 1971, it has become a renowned opera centre. The acoustics are incomparable, for the great wall, 37 meters high and 103 meters long, sends back the sound even when covered by a high, glass and steel roof completed this year, and deemed necessary to preserve the 2000 year old monument from the erosion of time and weather. And because everything is on such an immense scale it lends itself into staging the great popular works such as La Traviata or Carmen,  operas which draw the crowds and  fill the 8,300 places each night. The little known, more experimental works are left to other festivals where the theatres are much smaller and entail less risk-taking financially.

Chorégies d'Orange: Aida
Grand Angle Orange

This year, no chances were taken at all with the tenth re-staging in Orange of Aida, probably Verdi's most well-known grand opera which tells the story of the Egyptian general, Radames who is secretly in love with the Ethiopian slave-girl, Aida. And as the action takes place in ancient Thebes, it would be impossible to find a more fitting setting for this work. Moreover, heading the cast list was French superstar tenor, Roberto Alagna, beloved by press and public alike, even though he was a little disappointing as Radames, a role to which he is not ideally suited.

However, Alagna and the majestic setting apart, it was the sublime American soprano, Indra Thomas, as yet unknown in France who stole the hearts of the public on this occasion. She was the incarnation of Aida and with her beauty, exquisite voice and charismatic stage presence, had the whole theatre on its feet, stamping and cheering. A second discovery was the magnificent Korean baritone, Seng-Hyoun Ko as Amonasro, her father, chief of the Ethiopian troops, who possesses a voice ideally suited to such grandiose surroundings. The mezzo soprano, Marianne Cornetti, strangely out of the action early on, came into her own in act IV when she was superb.

But perhaps the true star or stars of the evening were the choirs, omnipresent, directed by Hélène Blanic, on her first visit to Orange. The force, beauty, and sheer sound of the combined choirs of the Theatre of the Capitole of Toulouse, the Opéra of Monte-Carlo, the Opéra-Theatre of Avignon plus the Ensemble Vocal of the Chorégies d'Orange, some 110 singers in all, together with the National Orchestra of Lyon conducted by Michel Plasson was stupendous.

Chorégies d'Orange: Aida
Grand Angle Orange

In addition, the inventive staging by Charles Roubard, including the  fluorescent images which were projected onto the  great stone wall, was most spectacular. The triumphal march on stage of  the victorious Egyptians and the arrival of their leader in  the royal barge accompanied by the famous sound of the trumpets was breathtaking. And the final scene when a huge black square symbolising the closing of the crypt was projected onto the wall, slowly darkening the stage and taking the audience into the tomb with Radames and Aida was pure magic.


Photo above: The Roman Theatre in Orange
Photo: Patricia Boccadoro 

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at Culturekiosque.com

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