The newspaper La Croix and Agence France-Presse report that the new structure was inaugurated on June 21 with a jazz concert attended by French Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres.
The Orange amphitheater is the oldest one in the world that still has its rear stage wall intact. In antiquity, the wall and performing area were covered by a wooden roof, which was destroyed by fire during the Middle Ages; ever since then, the original stone edifice had been exposed to the elements. A 19th-century renovation, undertaken at the urging of writer Prosper M_rim_e, replaced the stone tiers where the audience sits and the backstage areas on each side of the stage. But damage from rain, wind and pollution was becoming severe, according to La Croix, and two years ago Didier Repellin, the French government's inspector general and chief architect of historic monuments, told local authorities and festival management that major protective work had to be done.
"The primary goal of the covering," Repellin told AFP, "is to protect the ancient stones while leaving them visible." Speaking to La Croix, he went on to say that "one must respect the original materials. That's why we affixed the structures of the [new] roof only to the stones added during the 19th-century restoration or to interstices filled with injections of lime, but never directly into the ancient stones."
Discussing why a glass-and-steel roof was installed rather than a wooden structure similar to the original, he told AFP, "The archeologists who have studied the theater stone by stone have shown that it is no longer in condition for such a restoration. And if we know that the [original] roof was wooden, we know nothing of either the [particular] woodwork nor its decoration.
"Both philosophically and technically, we could not seek to imitate whatever was there before."
Instead, Repellin and his team installed over the ancient stone wall a 200-metric-ton structure of metal beams and glass panels resting on a giant steel beam more than 61 meters long. The €4.5 million cost was shared by the national, regional and local governments.
All necessary precautions to protect the amphitheater's acoustics were taken, said Repellin: an acoustical membrane was placed underneath the glass panels, and an acoustician performed tests before and after construction.
Audiences will get to hear and see the results in less than a fortnight: the Chor_gies d'Orange opens with two performances of Aida, starring Indra Thomas and Roberto Alagna and conducted by Michel Plasson, on July 8 and 11. Marco Guidarini will conduct a cast headed by Patrizia Ciofi and Rolando Villaz‹n in Lucia di Lammermoor on July 29 and August 1. There will also be two concerts at Orange this summer: Myung-Whun Chung conducting the Choir and Philharmonic Orchestra of Radio France in Mozart's Requiem (July 15) and Villaz‹n and Inva Mula in a recital of opera arias and duets (August 4). Complete information on the festival is available at www.choregies.com.