California’s Napa Valley is once again preparing to host its annual Festival del Sole, a celebration of classical music, dance and theatre, featuring a line-up of international stars. Every July, some of the finest wine estates in Napa provide a theatrical and dining experience par excellence against a backdrop of some of the most beautiful settings in The Golden State.
The central courtyard of the Castello di Amorosa – inspired by a 13th century Tuscan castle – is the venue for the First Night Gala which stars soprano Audra McDonald. Winner of two Grammy Awards® and five Tony Awards® – her most recent for a memorable performance in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess – Ms McDonald is as much at home in opera and on Broadway as she is on film, television and the concert stages of the world. In this intimate concert, Audra McDonald – joined by a jazz ensemble – will perform a selection of favorites from the shows, classic songs from the movies, and some original pieces written specially for her.
The Russian National Orchestra – founding and resident orchestra of the Festival del Sole – launches the season’s celebration of Rachmaninoff’s 140th anniversary. Conducted by Carlo Montanaro, the Orchestra – the first Russian ensemble to win a Grammy® – will perform Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No 2 at a concert in which French pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, will play Saint-Saens’ rarely performed Piano Concerto No 5 – the Egyptian.
At its second appearance, the RNO will be joined by violinist Sarah Chang for a performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto – and Ms Chang will also appear in recital at the Castello di Amorosa, accompanied by pianist Andrew von Oeven, in works by Brahms and Prokofiev.
The Opus One winery – noteworthy for its unusual design, featuring a mix of classical European and contemporary Californian elements – will be hosting an intimate soirée featuring some of Rachmaninoff’s most well-loved works. Guest artists are cellist Nina Kotova, soprano Ekaterina Scherbachenko and pianist Vadym Kholodenko.
The Festival’s annual Dance Gala presents the first opportunity to see a suite from the restoration of the ballet Paganini, by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Michel Fokine. Set to the composer’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the ballet was premiered in London in 1939 by the Ballets Russes, but was lost after the Company disbanded during World War II. This performance is part of a multi-year project to recreate the work, and there’s an exhibit at Napa Valley Museum featuring materials uncovered during the ballet’s restoration. Also on the program – which features principal dancers from Ballet San Jose, San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre – are other classic divertissements, and the Russian National Orchestra is led by George Daugherty.
With its reputation as one of the world’s great wine estates, Far Niente has an opportunity to present its finest as it hosts two intimate soirées, both featuring mezzo-soprano, Frederica von Stade. Following an exquisite dinner under the stars, guests will be treated to a performance by one of America’s most celebrated vocalists. After the second concert, there’s to be “a special surprise”, courtesy of the cast, writers and directors of the 24 Hour Plays – an annual event which will have reached its conclusion earlier in the day. This event involves a group of award-winning of film and television stars who are given 24 hours in which to create, write, rehearse and perform four 10-minute plays.
The Festival closes with an Opera Gala, a programme of arias presented by Ekaterina Scherbachenko and leading dramatic bass, Raymond Aceto. Ms Scherbachenko, known as one of the most talented lyric sopranos of her generation, is a member of the Bolshoi Theatre and was also the winner of the 2009 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Mr Aceto’s performances continue to attract both popular and critical acclaim, and he has established an important presence among the world’s leading opera companies and symphony orchestras. Included in this programme are excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Dvorak’s Rusalka, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.
The programme also includes a special appearance by Ukranian pianist Vadym Kholodenko – in his first concert performance since winning this year’s Van Cliburn Competition. With the Russian National Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Montanaro, Mr Kholodenko plays the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1, a very grand finale to one of California’s most elegant summer festivals.