Turrets and towers, manicured hedges and bubbling fountains. The castles of France inspire dreams of other eras, of summertime strolls through courtly gardens and elegant entertainment. The Opéra en Plein Air Festival gives opera fans the opportunity to indulge these fantasies, albeit with a healthy addition of contemporary flair.
Each summer, excellent artists come together for an opera production that travels from one exquisite historic venue to the next. While the operas are generally drawn from the core repertoire, the artistic direction is put in the hands of innovative, often unexpected contemporary figures, promising a goodly dose of urban aesthetics, even on the castle grounds.
This year’s opera is Puccini’s “La Bohème”, in a production conceived by French writer, thinker, and politician, Jacques Attali. The sets and costumes on open-air stage are designed by world-famous comic-book artist, Enki Bilal.
How to choose which of the castles is the right venue for your opera visit? Have a look at the choices below.
Domaine Départemental de Sceaux
You don’t have to look far beyond Paris to find the magical atmosphere of a castle estate. With its elaborate gardens and fountains, the 180 acres of the Domaine de Sceaux in the Hautes-de-Seine region are a jewel of the greater Paris area. Two million visitors make their way to Sceaux each year to appreciate the finely trimmed nature and the 17th century architecture.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a minister of Louis XIV, acquired the estate in 1670 and called upon the most talented artists of his time, including André Le Nôtre, Charles Perrault, and Charles Le Brun, to beautify the property. Today, visitors can explore the museum in the heart of the estate, as well as various historic buildings and the beautifully planned park.
Château du Champ de Bataille
Le Neubourg, France
The Château du Champ de Bataille is a stunning estate with extensive gardens. In 1992, Jacques Garcia purchased the 17th century castle and took on the mammoth task of restoring them to their original splendor. His reward was the title of Officer in the French Legion of Honor, and the rest of us were rewarded with the first-hand opportunity to appreciate the awesome, age-old art of French gardening.
Château de Vincennes
Erected by Charles V in the 14th century, the Château de Vincennes is among the most important castles in the history of France. It is also one of the best conserved and largest fortified castles in all of Europe. With most sections remaining from the original 14th century building, the castle also retains additions built in the 17th century. Once a separate town, Vincennes itself is now an eastern suburb of Paris.
Château de Haroué
The Château de Haroué is a unique example of French architecture at the beginning of the 18th century, the golden age of the Lorraine region. Germain Boffrand (1667-1754) was commissioned to design the castle by Marc de Beauvau-Craon, a childhood friend of Duke Leopold of Lorraine. The work of local artists and artisans can be seen in all of the decorative elements of the elegant structure.
Hôtel National des Invalides
In 1670, Louis XIV decided to commission the construction of the Hôtel National des Invalides , to provide housing for war veterans. The architect, Libéral Bruant, created an elegant Neo-Classical building that has become one of the defining monuments of Paris. Today, the Hôtel National des Invalides houses a military museum, and it is the burial place of France’s war heroes. The opera performances here are held in the majestic “Cour d’Honneur”, the ceremonial courtyard of the complex.
Château de Fontainebleau
An established UNESCO World Heritage Site, the spectacular Château de Fontainebleau has played an important role in French history over centuries. The Château de Fontainebleau offers stunning examples of French architecture from the 12th to the 19th century. The palace was home to French royalty for nearly 800 years, and each generation has contributed to the spectacular building and palace gardens. The Château de Fontainebleau was favored by Napoleon the First.