The vocal and instrumental ensemble Les Arts Florissants (= LAF) is one of the most well known and respected early music groups in the world. Performing in an historically informed manner, 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 were largely responsible for the resurgence of interest in France in 17th and 18th century French repertoire, and in European music of this period 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, it is 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), Charpentier (Médée in 1993 and 1994), George Frideric Handel (Orlando in 1993, Acis and Galatea in 1996, Semele in 1996, Alcina in 1999), Purcell (King Arthur in 1995), Mozart (The Magic Flute in 1994, Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Opéra du Rhin in 1995) and Monteverdi (the much praised Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Aix-en Provence in July 2000 which toured to Lausanne, Paris, Caen, Bordeaux, New York and Vienna in 2002).
The ensemble has collaborated on projects with renowned stage directors such as Jean-Marie Villégier, Robert Carsen, Alfredo Arias, Pier Luigi Pizzi, Jorge Lavelli, Adrian Noble, Andrei Serban and Graham Vick, as well as with choreographers Francine Lancelot, Béatrice Massin, Ana Yepes, Shirley Wynne, Maguy Marin, François Raffinot and Jiri Kylian, to name but a few.
Les Arts Florissants have an equally high profile in the concert hall and on disc, as their many acclaimed performances illustrate. Their repertoire includes concert performances of operas (Zoroastre, les fêtes d’Hébé by Rameau, Idomenée by Campra, Jephté by Montéclair, Il Sant’Alessio by Landi, Orfeo by Rossi), secular chamber works (Actéon, Les plaisirs de Versailles, Orphée aux Enfers by Charpentier and Dido and Aeneas by Purcell), and sacred music (the Grands Motets by Rameau, Mondonville and Desmarest, G.F. Handel oratorios such as The Messiah, Israel in Egypt and Theodora), not to mention a large number of choral works.
Les Arts Florissants have also touched on the contemporary repertoire with the creation of Motets III - Hunc igitur terrorem by Betsy Jolas on the occasion of their 20th anniversary.The ensemble has an impressive discography. After making more than forty recordings for Harmonia Mundi, Les Arts Florissants signed an exclusive contract with Warner (Erato) in 1994 and have since recorded over twenty discs, many of which have won awards, including the Gramophone Award which they have received four times. Their most recent recording is "Les Divertissements de Versailles", great operatic scenes by Lully.
For more than ten years Les Arts Florissants have had a residency at the Théâtre de Caen, and each season they present a concert series in the Basse-Normandie region. The ensemble also tours widely, both within France and internationally, and is a frequent ambassador for French culture (it is regularly invited to the Brooklyn Academy and the Lincoln Center in New York, and to the Barbican Centre in London, for example). Other international projects include a collaboration with The Philharmonie in Berlin in 2002 and a tour of Japan and South-East Asia in 2003.
Les Arts Florissants is funded by the French Ministry of Culture, the town of Caen and the Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie. Its associate sponsor is Imerys.