CALISTOGA - Listening this afternoon in the blazing Napa sun to David
Daniels and Danielle de Niese singing Handel's "Giulio Cesare" just 20
feet away, with Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque behind
them, brought Eugene Palette to mind.
Palette, also notable for his role in "My Man Godfrey," played a
well-meaning but clueless American millionaire in Rene Clair's 1935
"The Ghost Goes West," who imports an Scottish castle to Florida, stone
by stone, with the ghost of the castle, Robert Donat, moved across the
Atlantic as well, to get involved with the the very much alive Jean
Parker. (Then there is Elsa Lanchester, validating paranormal sightings.)
Today's marvelous Festival del Sole concert took place in Castello di
Amorosa, a new, huge presence in Napa Valley, a very real castle with
parts moved from various locations in Europe to California by Daryl
Sattui, of V. Sattui Winery, costing "every penny I had," according
to what he told me.
So how much did building the castle cost? "My wife told me not to say
that, and I am more afraid of her than of you," came the answer from the
man who claims credit for architecture and decoration - both on first
try, supposedly. The castle now stands as the geographic and spiritual
center of the Sattui brand, five defensive towers with battlements over
the 121,000-square feet Tuscan castle, indicating where to get Castello
di Amorosa merlot (dry and zesty).
Even with a still-dry moat, it's one hell of a castle... with incredible
acoustics in the open courtyard (just above the unoccupied prison and
torture chamber). With all the stone behind and around the stage, a
canvas A-frame above it, the sound is remarkable: clean and warm, not
at all like outdoor venues elsewhere.
In this unusual context, the events contents were so outstanding that
they would have made a deep impression even in - perish the thought!
- a plain old concert hall. Daniels was in prime form, leading up to
a breathtaking "Aure, deh, per pieta," de Niese performed on a level
of personal best and beyond, with a brilliant voice (lacking only in
diction outside recitatives), mesmerizing presence, portraying a fetching
Cleopatra, irresistibly seductive, flashing black eyes commanding (with
deceptive gentility) poor, defenseless Caesar.
As the emperor, Daniels fought against the conquest; as a singer and a
man, he gave into it (as if he had a choice!), with a big kiss concluding
the "Caro/Bella" duet - and, yes, a peck on the forehead later to show
that the previous smooch just showbiz. Oh sure.
McGegan's part in the kissing was in the form of blowing them, early
and often, to the singers, to the orchestra, to the marvelous obbligato
players; he should have planted one on himself for his fluid, joyful,
terrifically alive rhythmic direction.
Seven generous Handel excerpts and a fine performance of Corelli's
Concerto Grosso in D major were not enough. Daniels and de Niese were
affecting in a duet from "Ariodante," but McGegan declared that it was
too sad a note on which to end the concert, so he offered the final duet
from "The Coronation of Poppea," allowing that its a love scene between
two monsters, Nero and Poppea celebrating the defeat of virtue... but
if this be evil, let's have more of it.
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