AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France — On a latest Monday afternoon, the Grand Théâtre de Provence right here was almost empty, simply hours earlier than a live performance of Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo.”
An organ was being tuned onstage, letting out a flute-like whistle. Backstage, somebody was warming up with the elegant brass fanfares originally of the rating.
And Pierre Audi, the overall director of the Aix-en-Provence Pageant, which runs by way of Saturday this yr and launched the Monteverdi, was painstakingly adjusting the lighting.
“Hotter; it’s extremely useless,” he advised members of the pageant’s workers as he gazed on the glow on the again wall of the stage. The primary act of “L’Orfeo” takes place in a meadow, which the efficiency would considerably counsel. inexperienced blurs like timber behind the musicians Audi needed the colour to be barely extra delicate, paler, extra delicate.
Because the ensemble started to rehearse, he stood up and watched, his arms clasped on his stomach. The efficiency was energetic, however a number of the singers’ performances felt a bit awkward.
“I have not achieved the staging,” Audi, 64, stated quietly in an accent that wasn’t fairly British or fairly French, with a sly smile and an apologetic shrug. “I am simply doing the lights.”
Taking accountability for making the lights for a mere live performance was not out of the query for Audi, additionally the creative director of the Park Avenue Armory in New York, the founding father of the Almeida Theater in London, for many years the boss of the Dutch. Amsterdam Nationwide Opera and altogether probably the most eminent figures behind the scenes on the world stage of performing arts.
An skilled stage supervisor in addition to a famend supervisor, Audi would not simply work on a grand technique and chat with donors. He additionally will get into the main points of the commerce, intently overseeing rehearsals. (The discuss this summer season was that he significantly wanted to assist form Satoshi Miyagi’s vaguely kabuki manufacturing of Mozart’s “Idomeneo.”) The administrators respect him as a result of he’s considered one of them.
After succeeding Bernard Foccroulle, who stepped down after 11 profitable years in Aix, Audi was in a position to stage only one iteration of this annual pageant earlier than the pandemic hit. However final summer season, and this one, he delivered blows that outlined permanence.
In 2020, when all performances in Aix have been canceled because of the pandemic, Audi managed to carry rehearsals for “Innocence”, a brand new work by Kaija Saariaho, with solely a piano. And he was in a position to shift the premiere seamlessly to 2021, when it was hailed as one of many best operas of the twenty first century.
This yr, it opened the season in a brand new venue, which was additionally an previous one: the Vitrolles Stadium, an enormous black concrete field constructed within the Nineteen Nineties that had sat deserted on prime of a hill in a suburb of Aix for greater than of twenty years.
“Once I got here in as director, I advised the technicians, ‘I wish to see it,’” Audi recalled. “They stated it was not potential, for a yr and a half. And I needed to be very robust: ‘When you do not present it to me, I’ll cease being the director.’ It was the final day of my first pageant, in 2019, and we entered with a lamp”.
The graffiti-covered constructing was in disrepair, however Audi, who had reworked a former Salvation Military corridor into the Almeida in 1980 and was used to programming an enormous uncooked area in New York, noticed its potential.
“I noticed the peak,” he stated, “and instantly noticed that the actual property was similar to the Armory.”
For 2 years, he courted the Vitrolles City Corridor, which must bear a big a part of the price of the reform. Audi started planning a daring premiere manufacturing for the stadium: “Resurrection,” Romeo Castellucci’s staging of Mahler’s Second Symphony as a 90-minute exhumation of a shallow mass grave, not figuring out if the renovation can be prepared. on time and with out doing an acoustic take a look at in area.
“He known as me,” stated director Esa-Pekka Salonen, “and I believe he thought he must make a case, to someway justify it to me: ‘Now we have some sort of wacky concept that Castellucci goes to arrange Mahler 2 in an previous constructing half deserted. And I simply stated, ‘Sure, I am in’. I believe he was disillusioned that it was really easy.”
It wasn’t till final July that Vitrolles formally greenlit the mission. However Audi’s gamble paid off: The job was accomplished on time, and whereas some debated Castellucci’s idea, “Resurrection” was extensively applauded, a proof of idea firstly of a collection of productions exploring the probabilities of the memorable and malleable area.
“The stadium is Pierre Audi’s signature time period,” stated Timothée Picard, the pageant’s playwright. “And he’s completely linked to all the pieces that he has achieved for the reason that starting of his profession. Think about new relationships between work, area, stage route, public. Tasks that we couldn’t do in conventional locations.”
Chatting with a small group of younger artists at this yr’s pageant, Audi stated: “I by no means noticed opera as one thing that needed to cope with my trauma or my origins.” However he has linked his curiosity in reusing uncommon buildings to rising up in Lebanon, a rustic that lacked theaters.
“Opening the stadium, to me, felt pure,” he stated. “It’s a must to take any constructing and switch it into an area.”
Born right into a rich household in Beirut, Audi grew up there and in Paris and was educated at Oxford College in Britain. He was in his early 20s when he based the Almeida, turning it into a middle for theater and experimental music. Starting in 1988, he served for 30 years as chief of the Dutch Nationwide Opera, throughout which interval he additionally spent 10 years answerable for the Holland Pageant.
“The factor about Pierre was that it wasn’t going to be a standard old style opera,” stated supervisor and coach Matthew Epstein, who suggested Audi throughout that preliminary interval. “It was the growth of the repertoire, each backwards, in the direction of Haendel and Monteverdi, which he directed and for which he turned well-known, and forwards, in the direction of a lot up to date opera. He’s a real businessman.”
Because the Foccroulle period drifts additional into the previous, Audi’s Aix is taking maintain. It has added extra productions to the three-week schedule and a denser live performance schedule, increasing the funds to €27.5 million ($28.1 million) this yr from €21.4 million in 2018, with plans for extra, sustaining the dimensions of the workers. ; the rise goes to the creation of artwork.
It’s presenting extra Italian opera than had been the case right here: “Tosca” in 2019; Rossini’s “Moïse et Pharaon” and a “Norma” live performance this yr; “Madama Butterfly” to come back, and extra French works too, together with Meyerbeer’s “Le Prophète” subsequent yr. Aix’s vibrant commissioning program will proceed, setting it other than the Salzburg Pageant, Europe’s grandest summer season opera occasion, which has just lately targeted on reviving hardly ever seen Twentieth-century items moderately than new ones.
In just a few summers he’ll start a sustained relationship with Simon Rattle and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. And Audi wish to flip the Château du Grand-Saint-Jean, on the outskirts of Aix, right into a theater and a house for the pageant’s program of younger artists, however that mission, not like the Stade de Vitrolles, would require an immense fundraising. effort, particularly since public subsidies are a lowering share of the funds.
As for the stadium, subsequent summer season it will likely be used for an additional formidable mission, however one thing fully totally different from “Resurrection”: a trio of movies that can accompany Stravinsky’s first interval ballets, carried out stay by the Orchester de Paris underneath the route by Klaus Makela.
“The necessary factor,” Audi stated, “is to not imitate what we did this yr.”
That is in step with his common reluctance to relaxation on his laurels, to do what is anticipated of him. Nikolaus Bachler, one other veteran artwork chief, stated: “What I like most about Pierre is that he has countless curiosity.” Rashaad Newsome’s “Meeting,” which Audi unveiled on the Armory earlier this yr, was “fully totally different than what you may suppose can be attention-grabbing to him,” stated Rebecca Robertson, president of the Armory.
However together with curiosity comes a realistic aspect, a dedication to finishing up these visions. “It is at all times anchored in some sort of technical actuality,” Salonen stated, including of “Resurrection”: “When you thought it might be achieved, I instantly thought this was one thing attention-grabbing.”
“Truthfully, this concept, coming from nearly anybody, would have stated, ‘You are loopy,'” Salonen stated. “However when it got here from him, I listened.”