France: Bringing Music to the Ears

Great performers and historic sites together can produce sublime synergies, as artists and settings enhance each other to create unforgettable memories.

France,with hundreds of historic sites and a rich musical history, excels in this kind of spectacle. Below is a sampling. In some cases, exact dates and times have not been set. Agents can call the French Government Tourist Office as the dates approach for more information.

The Grand Musical Waters of Versailles, a spectacle in which music is programmed to accompany the water display of some 50 fountains and pools, creating a harmony all their own, enlivens palace visits from May 3 to Oct. 11. In July and September, historical tableaux are played out at the Bassin de Neptune.

For three weeks in May, music resonates through Evian during the annual International Classical and Chamber Music Festival. Between concerts, clients can stroll the boulevards and promenades of this opulent Belle Epoque spa or listen to the sound of roulette wheels in the casino.

Strasbourg's International Music Festival in June and July spreads performances among the Palace of Music, the pink sandstone Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame (once the tallest structure in Europe) and other churches.

From mid-June to late July, the Nuits de Fourviere, featuring theater and music, takes place in the ancient Roman theaters of Lyon. The larger of the two theaters is the oldest in France, no surprise considering that Lugdunum (today's Lyon) was once the capital of Gaul.

Paris' Fete de la Musique celebrates all types of music with venues spread throughout the city. Place de la Republique, Place de la Bastille, Hotel des Invalides and La Villette are but some of the spots that will host the June 21 event.

Between June 21 and Aug. 22, Saison Musicale, a festival of chamber music, will be held in the ruins of a Romanesque abbey in the southeastern village of St. Guilhem le Desert. New York's Cloisters is a replica of this abbey and even includes some of its ancient stones.

At Reims, the 120 concerts of the Flaneries Musicales d'Ete can be heard in courtyards, gardens and such noted monuments as the Cathedral of Notre Dame, St. Remi Basilica and the Palais de Tau. Performances take place from June 26 to Aug. 23.

A festival of classical, sacred and medieval music will be held during July and August in the intact 12th-century Cistercian Abbey at Noirlac. Clients can expand their sightseeing to include nearby Bourges, where the Cathedral of St. Etienne boasts stained glass windows frequently compared to those of Chartres.

From July through September, the Festival Musique en l'Ile offers classical music, oratorios and chamber music in three of Paris' most renowned churches: St. Chapelle, St. Germain des Pres and Eglise St. Louis en l'Ile.

During the first and second weeks of July, the International Celtic Harp Festival will take place in Dinan, a walled town considered one of the loveliest in Brittany. When not listening to music, clients can explore Dinan's ramparts, castle and cobbled streets.

One of Europe's most famous international festivals of music and opera, the International Festival of Lyric Art and Music, held since 1948, is scheduled for July 3 to 31 at Aix en Provence. The works of Mozart, Purcell, Britten, Monteverdi and Bartok will be among those presented in the outdoor courtyard of the archbishop's palace.

Beaune's International Festival of Baroque Music, from July 3 to Aug. 2, will be staged in the 15th-century Hospices de Beaune, an example of Renaissance architecture.

From July 5 to Sept. 6, the International Organ Festival will present concerts each Sunday afternoon at the cathedral of Chartres. A masterpiece of medieval architecture, the cathedral is most known for its 12th- and 13th-century stained glass which gave rise to the term "Chartres blue."

In Provence, the Roman amphitheater at Orange, one of the best-preserved such structures in the world, will be the scene for music and opera between mid-July and early August. The stage is backed by a monumental wall complete with a statue of Augustus Caesar.

Nuits Musicales du Suquet will offer chamber music in Cannes' historic district (Suquet) overlooking the old port. Performances are scheduled from July 20 to 30.

For 10 days in late August, the Auvergne hill village of La Chaise Dieu rewards clients with visual as well as auditory treats. Besides attending the music festival, they might inspect the danse macabre frescoes of the St. Robert church.

Sound and light
Back in 1952, the concept of son et lumiere (sound and light shows) was born at the Loire Valley's Chateau de Chambord. Although such spectacles are now presented at attractions from Mexico's Mayan ruins to the pyramids of Egypt, the Loire still boasts some of the best examples.

Today's productions use lasers, fireworks and medieval jousts along with hundreds of costumed performers. Depending on the venue, clients can experience historical pageants and long-ago tales in chateau courtyards and gardens or actively follow changing scenes around the grounds.

The chateaux of Amboise, Azay le Rideau, Blois, Chenonceau, Cheverny, Le Lude, Le Puy du Fou, Loches, Meung sur Loire and Valencay host some of the most spectacular programs. Most performances take place from mid-May through early September and last one to two hours. Specific dates and times should be checked.

Other venues for sound and light shows include Mont St. Michel, from April 17 to Sept. 26, where performers move along the abbey's stairways and corridors.

Between July and mid-September, the facade and nave of Reims Cathedral, the coronation site for 26 French kings, serve as the setting for sound and light pageants on Friday and Saturday nights.


Following are telephone numbers for sound and light venues mentioned in this guide:

Amboise: 33-2-47-57-14-47
Azay-le-Rideau: 33-2-47-31-42-60
Blois: 33-2-54-78-72-76
Chenonceau: 33-2-47-23-90-07
Cheverny: 33-2-54-79-96-29
Le Lude: 33-2-43-94-62-20
Le Puy-du-Fou: 33-2-51-64-11-11
Loches: 33-2-47-59-07-98
Meung-sur-Loire: 33-2-38-44-32-28
Mont St. Michel: 33-2-33-60-14-14
Reims: 33-3-26-77-45-25 (tourist office)
Valencay: 33-2-54-00-04-42

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