[From the 7/18 SFCV.org]
YOUNTVILLE - Alan Gilbert is orbiting between his Royal Stockholm
Philharmonic, the Hamburg Symphony, and Santa Fe. He is music director
of the Santa Fe Opera, now in the middle of its 50th anniversary season,
but Gilbert still managed to get away and conduct a concert here in
California Sunday evening. Major jet-setter Joshua Bell came too.
More Swedish than Gilbert and just as big in frequent-flyer mileage
as Bell, mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter joined the two.
And then, the whole Russian National Orchestra - on the way from Moscow
to the Tuscan Sun Festival in Cortona - landed in the Napa Valley.
Most of these artists opening the first Napa edition of the Festival del
Sole, and those due later this week - Frederica von Stade, Renee Fleming,
Samuel Ramey, Carlo Ponti Jr., Piotr Anderszewski, Sarah Chang among
them - have one thing in common. They are with IMG Artists, the world's
largest arts management organization.
As so, when IMG boss Barrett Wissman, who founded both the Italian and
Napa Valley festivals, told the opening-night audience in Lincoln Theater
that booking artists of this stature usually takes years, but he and his
wife, the cellist Nina Kotova, managed this launch in less than a year,
the unstated message was: don't try to do this at home, especially with
musicians who are not in your stable.
There was one startling exception to the global management of difficult
travel schedules. Festival del Sole, which is a combination of music,
arts, literature, food and wine, is featuring Lebanese painter Ana
Corbero's large "Lagrimas" exhibit, and she was to attend the opening
today. Instead, Corbero sent a message that Israeli air strikes on
Beirut prevented both her flying out from there or traveling to Damascus
for an alternative departure. The paintings - shipped earlier - did
arrive, and the exhibit opened, without the artist attending.
The opening concert in the recently renovated, 1,200-seat Lincoln
Theater had a reported attendance of 950. It is located on the grounds
of the Veterans Home, a 550-acre facility used without interruption since
it was founded in 1884 to serve veterans of the Civil War. The $22
million reconstruction, managed by Michael Savage - also responsible for
fixing up the Napa Opera House - resulted in a glossy finish over what
is still obviously a simple, boxy structure, with the addition of an
The theater has superb acoustics, doing justice both to solo voices
and a large orchestra, although it's difficult to say what was natural
sound and what appeared courtesy of "Meyer Sound's MAPP Online Pro
acoustical prediction program, with M2D array coverage to fit the
moderately reverberant, `symphony-friendly' architectural design
of Auerbach and Associates."
If anything, the sound is "too good," in that almost every forte from
the 80-member orchestra sounded fortissimo, and overtures to both "The
Marriage of Figaro" and "Carmen" made one wonder if both Mozart and Bizet
- an unlikely pair - were writing music for a Red Square parade. It was
a welcome surprise when the program-closing Tchaikovsky "Romeo and Juliet"
Fantasy Overture came across smooth as silk, with appealing work from
the strings; the thought arises that perhaps this piece received more
rehearsal than the others... or if somebody prevailed upon the Online
Pro to be more "symphony-friendly."
The orchestra dropped off the radar during the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto,
so dominant and mesmerizing was the soloist. Joshua Bell's big, and yet
mellow and warm "voice," his flawless, elegantly full-bodied playing
engaged the listener completely. Granted that the Tchaikovsky is a
recognized exception to the no-applause-between-movements rule, Bell,
the orchestra, and some of the audience (a minority) were taken aback
by the (majority) standing ovation, which said, in effect, that the music
stops here. With some difficulty, Bell and Gilbert reclaimed the hall
to execute the composer's whim, adding to the "perfect ending" a Canzonetta
and the Finale.
Von Otter's opening "Voi che sapete" might have served the artist better
as a backstage warmup; it was far from her usual form. "E amore un
ladroncello," from "Cosi fan tutte," was an improvement, but the real
von Otter didn't show up until the second half, with two knock-'em-dead
arias from "Carmen," easily soaring over the big boom-boom of the brass
and percussion. Phrasing and diction nonpareil here, the von Otter
showmanship found its examplary vehicle.
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