In Avignon, as we visited the magnificent Palais des Papes where Pope Clement V moved the seat of the papacy from Rome in 1309, we saw posters for the annual arts festival everywhere. What a celebration of the performing arts it is!
The Festival d’Avignon is an annual arts festival founded in 1947 by the actor and director Jean Vilar, it is the oldest extant festival in France and one of the world’s greatest. In 2008, some 950 shows were performed during three weeks.
Since 1980, the festival has been organized by a nonprofit organization, which is administered by a board of trustees composed of the French state, the city of Avignon, the Département du Vaucluse, the Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, and seven public figures competent in the field of theater. Among other places, the shows are performed in the Cour d’Honneur – the honor courtyard – of the Palais des Papes, the place of residence of the Avignon papacy during most of the 14th century. [Wikipedia]
And on our last night, in Orange, we listened to a spellbinding performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Roman theater as part of the famous music festival that also takes place every year and is largely focused on opera. In 1869, the theater was restored, and it has been the site of a music festival for many years.
This is just a representative sample of what happens in Europe during the summer. Many more major and minor celebrations of the arts and culture take place all over Europe, every day.
In London, for instance, theater is still a way of life. Industry research indicates that in recent years theater attendance has been very strong even though film has come to dominate over the past several decades. On this trip, we saw one of the best plays we have ever seen (although I say that with care, having seen a few other equally spectacular plays in London over the years). “War Horse” was simply magical. Not only was it a beautiful story of a boy’s beloved horse that had been sold to the cavalry during the First World War, it is also a show of great innovation. Life-size horses charge on stage. They gallop, snort, and buck. But they are puppets strong enough for the actors to ride.