Les Arts Florissants
The vocal and instrumental ensemble Les Arts Florissants is one of the most renowned and respected early music groups in Europe and around the world. Dedicated to the performance of Baroque music on original instruments, the ensemble was founded in 1979 by the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor William Christie, and takes its name from a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Les Arts Florissants have been largely responsible for the resurgence of interest in France in 17th-century French repertoire as well as in European music of the 17th and 18th centuries more generally. This was repertoire which had, for the most part, been neglected (much of it unearthed from collections in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France) but which is now widely performed and admired.
Since the acclaimed production of Atys by Lully at the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1987, it has been in the field of opera where Les Arts Florissants have found most success. Notable productions include works by Rameau (Les Indes galantes in 1990 and 1999, Hippolyte et Aricie in 1996, Les Boréades in 2003, Les Paladins in 2004), Charpentier (Médée in 1993 and 1994), Handel (Orlando in 1993, Acis and Galatea in 1996, Semele in 1996, Alcina in 1999, Hercules in 2004 and 2006), Purcell (King Arthur in 1995, Dido and Aeneas in 2006), Mozart (The Magic Flute in 1994, Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Opéra du Rhin in 1995) and Monteverdi (the much praised The Return of Ulysses at Aix-en-Provence in 2000, revived in 2002, The Coronation of Poppea in 2005, and L’Orfeo at the Teatro Real de Madrid in 2008).
The ensemble has collaborated on productions with renowned stage directors such as Jean-Marie Villégier, Robert Carsen, Alfredo Arias, Pier Luigi Pizzi, Jorge Lavelli, Adrian Noble, Andrei Serban, Graham Vick and Deborah Warner, as well as with choreographers Francine Lancelot, Béatrice Massin, Ana Yepes, Shirley Wynne, Maguy Marin, François Raffinot, Jiri Kylian, Bianca Li and José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu, to name but a few.
Les Arts Florissants have an equally high profile in the concert hall and on disc, as illustrated by their many acclaimed concert performances of opera (Zoroastre and Les Fêtes d’Hébé by Rameau, Idomenée by Campra, Jephté by Montéclair, L'Orfeo by Rossi), as well as secular chamber works (Actéon, Les Plaisirs de Versailles and Orphée aux Enfers by Charpentier and Dido and Aeneas by Purcell), sacred music (the Grands Motets by Rameau, Mondonville and Desmarest, Handel oratorios such as Messiah, Israel in Egypt and Theodora), not to mention a large number of choral works.
Les Arts Florissants have also embarked upon contemporary repertoire, giving the premiere of Motets III – Hunc igitor terrorem by Betsy Jolas in 1999 to mark their twentieth anniversary.
The ensemble has an impressive discography: more than forty recordings for Harmonia Mundi, and some thirty on the Warner Classics/Erato label, the most recent of which being Theodora by Handel. As part of their collaboration with EMI/Virgin Classics (since 2003), Les Arts Florissants recently issued a recording of The Creation by Haydn. Their DVD catalogue currently numbers seven titles, which will be augmented at the end of August by Il Sant’Alessio by Stefano Landi, filmed at the Théâtre de Caen.
For fifteen years, Les Arts Florissants have been artists in residence at the Théâtre de Caen, and each year they present a concert season in the Basse-Normandie region. The ensemble also tours widely within France, and is a frequent ambassador for French culture abroad (it is regularly invited to the Brooklyn Academy, the Lincoln Center in New York, the Barbican Centre in London and the Vienna Festival).
In coming seasons, William Christie will be regularly inviting guest conductors close to Les Arts Florissants to conduct the ensemble. One of these is Paul Agnew, who conducted a concert of Vivaldi Vespers in January 2007 and who will again conduct Les Arts Florissants this season in a Purcell programme.
Les Arts Florissants receive financial support from the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the City of Caen and the Région Basse-Normandie. Their sponsor is Imerys. Les Arts Florissants are artists in residence at the Théâtre de Caen.