Fireworks exploded over Opus One Winery drowning out the cannons of Tchaikovsky’s rip-roaring “1812 Overture.”
This came after members of the Russian National Orchestra filled the dusky courtyard at the winery, 20 violins, one bass and one accordion, serenading guests with “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” and, most fittingly, the “Theme from Dr. Zhivago.”
Also after the dinners had finished a characteristically spectacular meal prepared by Chef Ken Frank and served with wines from Bouchaine and Opus One.
The night before the opening of the 2015 Festival del Sole season, the founders were celebrating, and with good reason. This is their 10th season of presenting a season packed with concerts, lunches, dinners, and even yoga in the vineyards.
For those of us who have chronicled the ups and downs of the arts in a valley that aspires to be known for its arts as well as its food, surviving and indeed, thriving, for 10 years is a feat to be celebrated.
Created by Rick Walker and Barrett Wissman in 2006, the early festival found local support from arts enthusiasts like Tatiana and Gerret Copeland, Margrit Mondavi, Dario Sattui, Darioush and Shahpar Khaledi, Augustin Huneeus, Clarke and Elizabeth Swanson, Maria Manetti , Jan Shrem, and Kathryn and Craig Hall.
The festival survived such local calamities as the closing of the Lincoln Theater, one if its principal venues, in 2011; it was instrumental in getting the bankrupt facility reopened for its 2012 season.
Year after year, it returned presenting some memorable moments like last year’s tribute to Sophia Loren, and appearances by Robert Redford, Renee Fleming, Joshua Bell and Audra McDonald.
Along the way, it introduced new artists, and provided support to young artists in Napa schools. All in all, a reason for fireworks.
And the festival demonstrated its unflappable resiliency and inspiration on Friday’s opening night when soprano Deborah Voigt had been scheduled to perform for a sold-out audience at Dario Sattui’s Castello di Amorosa. That week, Voigt, who had come down with a case of flu in an appearance in Moscow, was forced to cancel.
Saving the day and the show, a young soprano Nadine Sierra, took Voigt’s place, and completed dazzled her audience.
Sierra, 26, a former Adler Fellow from the San Francisco Opera, had just performed in San Francisco in “The Marriage of Figaro” and is scheduled to make her debut in the coming season at the Opera Nationale de Paris, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Teatro all Scalla in Milan and the Berlin Staatsoper. All of which might explain she appeared to be entirely at ease in performing with only a couple of day’s notice.
Music, we were told, was flying back and forth between the singer and pianist Brian Zeger, who had been scheduled to accompany Voigt. “Can you believe that he only had this music for one day?” Sierra asked the audience as she paid tribute to Zeger.
A radiant Sierra performed a rich variety of music opening with “Ah, je veux vivre” from Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Following with four selections from Debussy’s “Chansons de Jeunesse” and arias from Donazetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” and Verdi’s “Rigoletti.”
After intermission, she began with a lilting and flirtatious “Quando m’en vo” from Puccini’s “La Boheme” before singing some lesser known and fascinating selections: three pieces from Joaquin Turina “Homenaje a Lope de Vega,” followed by “happy and sad love songs” from a contemporary Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Quatro amatorios madrigales” and then an aria from Rossini’s “Il Viaggio a Rheims,” which Zeger explained, is a lovely but rarely performed opera, presented only when a company is flush enough in funds to hire the large cast it requires.
She concluded with a touching tribute to mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne by singing a song she had once heard Horne sing, Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer.” Sierra described meeting Horne without recognizing that the unpretentious woman to whom she was speaking. When she realized it was Horne and proceeded to tell the great singer how she had inspired Sierra’s own career, she said Horne responded, “Really? Because I didn’t get the feeling you knew who I was.”
Sierra’s warmth and charm — and, oh, yes, her voice too — left a general consensus that we’d all just seen a star, ascending.