Now in its 35th year and established as one of the major French Music Festivals, the Beaune International Festival of Baroque and Romantic Opera centres on the open-air courtyard of the well-known fifteenth-century Hospices de Beaune, celebrated not only for its multicoloured roof of glazed tiles and for its annual auction of fine Burgundies, but also for its infirmary where music was sung to the sick lying in their carved wooden beds: a kind of Music Therapy avant l’heure.
The first spectacle in our visit appropriately begins with a central work by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687). Lully was a violinist, a dancer and a prolific composer who became an all-powerful musical figure in France under the reign of the Sun King: other composers had to receive his approval before they could have their works published. He was responsible for a crucial new genre which would profoundly influence all future opera: the Tragédie en musique for which his collaborator was Philippe Quinault. Alceste, adapted from Eurypides, is perhaps the most important of these early tragédies lyriques. First performed at the Paris Opéra in 1674, its popularity ensured that it was revived until well into the eighteenth century. Its choruses, Airs, ensembles and dances all make for a performance demonstrating the captivating variety of a grand spectacle composed in a great century for the arts.
The magnificent Basilica of Notre-Dame hosts a concert of Sacred Music by Lully’s illustrious successor, Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643–1704) who was less centred on opera but more on oratorio and sacred music. He was a master harmonist who had studied in Italy with Carissimi and returned to Paris to serve various illustrious patrons and also the church of St. Louis, principal Parisian church of the Jesuits. His sacred music displays extraordinary diversity, from traditional settings of motets to mini-dramatic oratorios such as the heart-rending ‘Denial of St. Peter’ (Le reniement de St. Pierre), included in this programme.
Our visit ends with a recital from the counter-tenor Andreas Scholl, arguably the finest to emerge in the last twenty years. He will sing with the Italian Accademia Bizantina, an orchestra renowned for bringing a new spirit into modern performances of Baroque Music. He will include music by Purcell and sing some of the many operatic arias composed by Handel, so brilliantly suited to this unique voice.
In addition to three performances, which begin at 9.00pm, there is time to explore the gastronomic and artistic delights of Beaune and Burgundy.
Take the Eurostar at c. 10.30am from London St Pancras to Paris. Coach transfer between stations to continue by TGV (high-speed train) to Le Creusot. Drive from here to Beaune where all four nights are spent. Dinner is in the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Loiseau des Vignes.
Participants combining this tour with The Rhône: Bacchus & Orpheus disembark the ship and take a TGV train from Lyon to Beaune.
Beaune. A morning walk with a local guide takes in the concert venues. The stalwart Romanesque church of Notre-Dame has fine tapestries while the 15th-century Hospices de Beaune houses Rogier van der Weyden’s Last Judgement. Afternoon tasting at Bouchard Père et Fils, one of the oldest wine estates in Burgundy occupying an impressive site in the 15th-century Château de Beaune. Evening opera (concert version) in the courtyard of the Hospices de Beaune: Alceste (Jean-Baptiste Lully) with the choir of Namur and the orchestra of Les Talens Lyriques directed by Christophe Rousset.
Meursault, Beaune. Morning lecture followed by a tasting at the prestigious Château de Meursault and lunch in the pretty town square. Free afternoon in Beaune, perhaps to visit the wine museum or the Dalineum, with over 150 of Dalí’s works. Evening concert in the Basilique Notre Dame: Oratorios & Motets by Charpentier including The Denial of St Peter. Performed by the choir and orchestra of Les Arts Florissants directed by William Christie.
Dijon. Excursion to Burgundy’s capital, one of the most attractive of French cities with many fine buildings from 11th to 18th centuries. St Bénigne has an ambitious early Romanesque crypt while the palace of the Valois dukes now houses a museum with extensive collections of work from the period of their rule (1364–1477). Evening recital at the Basilique Notre Dame: Andreas Scholl (counter-tenor) performs a selection of arias from operas and oratorios by Handel, Bach and Purcell, accompanied by the Accademia Bizantina.
Mid-morning coach transfer to Dijon for the TGV to Paris. Drive to the Gare du Nord for the Eurostar to London St Pancras arriving at c. 5.45pm.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,560 or £2,370 without Eurostar & TGV. Single occupancy: £2,860 or £2,670 without Eurostar & TGV.
Price – combining with The Rhône: Bacchus & Orpheus
Two sharing: £2,450. Single occupancy: £2,750. The cost of travel from and to London is included in the cost of The Rhône, unless you are making your own arrangements.
Return rail travel (first class, Standard Premier) by Eurostar from London to Paris and by TGV from Paris to Le Creusot; private coach for transfers; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 1 lunch and 3 dinners with water, wine, coffee; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Top-category tickets to 3 performances costing c. £225. Open-air performances planned for the Hospices move to the basilica in inclement weather. At the time of going to print, the final festival programme is not confirmed so changes to the concert details given above are possible. Further details on soloists are due to be released by December 2016.
Hôtel le Cep, Beaune. A 4-star hotel, housed in two 16th-century mansions, and located in the heart of Beaune. Rooms are decorated in traditional Burgundy style. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
Visits require a fair amount of walking and standing around. Burgundy is very hot in July. There are some late nights but starts are leisurely. You need to be able to lift your luggage on and off the train.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.