13TH ANNUAL FESTIVAL NAPA VALLEY OPENING WEEKEND 2018 Part I – THE OPENING NIGHTS Festival Napa Valley recently “uncorked” its 13th season. I made my annual summer pilgrimage, one of a delighted 10,000 attendees who enjoyed wine, food, and cultural events over ten days at a multitude of venues throughout the Valley’s Wine Country.
A dazzling roster of musicians and singers participated in an unprecedented 70 spectacular classical music, opera, and jazz performances, and the region’s top vintners and chefs hosted intimate food and wine events.
AN ECLECTIC MIX OF VINEYARDS
Napa Valley is a remarkably eclectic region, with vintners of varied backgrounds, nationalities, and personalities creating a unique atmosphere at each venue. They include the Italian Dario Sattui of Castello di Amorosa; the Chilean Agustin and Valeria Huneeus of Quintessa Winery; the French Cherise and Christian Moueix of Dominus Winery; the late French Baron Philippe de Rothschild, founder of Opus One Winery; and the French vintner Jean-Charles Boisset and wife Gina Gallo of the California Gallo wine family.
To kick off this year’s Festival Napa Valley Opening Weekend, I arrived a day early to attend the invitation-only Founders Dinner to celebrate Festival benefactors and patrons. It was graciously hosted by Darioush and Shahpar Khaledi, at their Darioush Winery, whose architecture made a stunning backdrop.
The Los Angeles couple, stalwart supporters of the Festival since its inception, hold some of the most lavish evenings at their winery, events made exotic thanks to the influence of their Persian heritage.
Driving down the Silverado Trail, one of the lovely main roads through the Napa Valley, you might think you’ve seen a mirage when the Darioush Winery and estate comes into view. Its striking architecture is reminiscent of the magnificent ancient city of Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of Iran.
SURPRISE PERFORMANCE BY SOPRANO NADINE SIERRA
At the amphitheater, there was a surprise performance by young opera soprano Nadine Sierra, already a seasoned performer at 30. Nadine told us that she sang so much as a child that her mother hired a voice teacher when she was just 6 years old. At age 10, she dreamed of being an opera singer after hearing the music for the first time.
Nadine has made successful debuts at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, Teatro alla Scala, and Berlin State Opera, and she has performed at top venues worldwide. This past June, I had the opportunity to watch her perform in Don Pasquale at the Paris Opera House.
AL FRESCO PERSIAN DINNER
ANOTHER SURPRISE PERFORMANCE
At the end of the evening, we were treated to another surprise musical performance accompanied by an awe-inspiring light show.
OPENING NIGHT GALA AT MEADOWOOD RESORT
The 13th annual “Opening Night: Opera Under the Stars” was once again generously hosted by Meadowood Resort, in the town of St. Helena, which has been involved since the Festival’s inception.
One reason I return to Festival Napa Valley year after year is that performances are usually al fresco in beautiful settings. Another is the pleasure of watching young talent up close in such an intimate setting.
COCKTAILS IN THE VINTNER’S GLEN
Each year, Meadowood keeps us guessing by hosting the Festival event in a different location. This year, the setting was the lovely Vintner’s Glen, surrounded by a private grove of pine trees that create a natural amphitheater.
BLACKBURN MUSIC ACADEMY
Guests were seated in the natural cove to enjoy the performance by the Blackburn Music Academy Orchestra, an immersive program that provides tuition-free training for emerging artists, underwritten by Timothy and Athena Blackburn.
MAESTRO JOEL REVZEN
Maestro Joel Revzen, artistic director and principal conductor for Classical Tahoe, led the two young singers, Nadine Sierra and Jonathan Tetelman. This fall, Revzen travels to New York’s Metropolitan Opera House to assist with productions of Turandot, Madame Butterfly, Magic Flute, and others.
A LAST-MINUTE PERFORMANCE
Executive Producer Charles Letourneau shared his worst nightmare—“When a performer has to cancel, and you have to find a replacement at the last minute. This has happened to me twice during the Festival’s 13 years.” The first time, five years ago, he found Nadine Sierra, a talented soprano then just 25 years old (but an obvious star in the making).
Charles experienced his second last-minute replacement issue this year: This time, Nadine was the headliner and her partner canceling. Happily, Charles found Jonathan Tetelman, who arrived from New York at 2 a.m.—to rehearse and perform at 6 p.m. that very night!
A SURPRISE FINALE
A surprise encore came courtesy of New York composer Karen LeFrak, who flew in to see the West Coast premiere of her piece “Questa Via.” “I hope we can do it justice,” Nadine said—and they certainly did!
The romantic song brought tears to our eyes and was enthusiastically received. Sitting next to Karen, I loved watching the expression on her face as they performed her composition. What a special finale!