The Opera House may be remade as a cabaret

Company in talks with venue; seats would be replaced with tables
2013-06-20T17:30:00Z 2013-12-23T21:28:05Z The Opera House may be remade as a cabaretSASHA PAULSEN Napa Valley Register
June 20, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

City Winery of New York is in talks with the Napa Valley Opera House about the possibility of converting the historic venue into a “culinary meets culture” cabaret with tables and chairs replacing the existing theater seating.

“We are getting close to an announcement,” Michael Dorf, founder and CEO of City Winery said by phone from New York on Thursday,  “but we haven’t signed an agreement yet.”

The City Winery model, as described by its website, combines winemaking and music. According to the site, Dorf opened the first City Winery in New York because he wanted to “create a space in The City where he could combine his passions for wine and music. The core target audience of City Winery are people who share those same passions. We cater to urban wine enthusiasts who desire the experience of making their own wines but who are not going to leave their comfortable City lifestyle to decamp to a vineyard.”

The success of the first winery led to the opening of a second City Winery in Chicago last year, Dorf said.

“The tagline we have (for New York and Chicago) —  wine country in the city — doesn’t quite work,” Dorf said. “We’ll have to reverse it.”

Dorf said he became familiar with Napa as he sourced wines and grapes for his City Winery venues.

“As we’re expanding, we decided not to go with the obvious and open (a City Winery) in San Francisco, but go right to wine country.”

To convert the Opera House to a City Winery, he said, the plan would convert the lower floor, now the Opera House Cafe Theatre, to a restaurant.

Upstairs, he said they would return the main theater to its original design with a flat floor, remove the seats and replace them with tables and chairs.

“We wouldn’t touch the stage or walls,” he said.

The balcony would remain, he added. “The only thing we might do is take out every other seat and replace it with cocktail tables.”

Board chairman of the Opera House Bob Almeida said in a statement Thursday evening that the deal was contingent on maintaining the rights of existing seat holders.  

“We have met the City Winery team and are impressed with their capabilities and experience,” Almeida said. “However, in a deal of this complexity there are many details which need to be ironed out and we are not there yet.  

“Both City Winery and the Opera House are in absolute agreement that the rights of our existing seat holders and members would be preserved and, in fact enhanced, through the increased number and variety of performances.”

The plan would also include installing a new, state-of-the-art sound system, he said.

“We’re really excited about the possibilities,” he said. “Right now, the Opera House is dark a lot of the time. We’d have programming 300 nights a year.”

The “explosion of growth” in the city of Napa was one of the attractions, Dorf said, adding that he was encouraged and impressed by the BottleRock music festival in May at the Napa Valley Expo. His company had a booth at the four-day event where they gave out brochures describing his vision for a City Winery in Napa.

“City Winery Napa will have 30 or more taps with wine from Napa’s best vineyards and wineries to present the freshest straight-from-the-barrel flavors,”  the brochure reads. “This will give customers inside access to some of the best growers in the region.”

The Napa Valley Opera House opened in 1880 with a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore.” Jack London,  John Philip Sousa and the Italian soprano Luisa Tettrazini are among those who performed at the Opera House before it went dark in 1914. Damage from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the decline of vaudeville with the advent of films contributed to its closure.

In the 1970s, when Napa was undergoing extensive urban renewal the Opera House was nearly demolished before a group of local citizens decided to save it from the wrecking ball.

After extensive fundraising, renovations began and the Opera House reopened in 2003. Since then it has presented a variety of programs from community groups as well as world-renowned entertainers.

Although it is operated as a private nonprofit, in June 30, 2011 the city of Napa made a $1.5 million forgivable loan to the Opera House to retire some existing debt which freed up their own cash flow for operations.

Dorf said ideally if a contract is signed, he’d like to start renovation work by the end of this year.

Peter Williams, the director of the Opera House, said in a statement that all planned performances will go on as scheduled through the end of the year.

This story has been modified since its original posting to include comments from Opera House officials.

Copyright 2016 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(15) Comments

  1. Napa
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    Napa - June 20, 2013 8:43 pm
    Wine and elite....Wine and elite.....Why can't they leave a good thing alone???
  2. Napa
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    Napa - June 20, 2013 8:48 pm
    The Opera House has always been the Opera House. Why change it into something else for the elitists in our community??
  3. Report Abuse
    - June 20, 2013 10:12 pm
    Well it is kinda of a good thing.... I suggest the elite have a grip on it now and had the expectation that it good be something more..... But the grand old lady is still a "Melodian" and they have not figured that out yet, wait? They are getting close.....
  4. napawoman1
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    napawoman1 - June 20, 2013 10:32 pm
    I think the logic might be...Elitist have money to spend to keep the venue going. Otherwise we might be lookin at another Lincoln theater, no money no theater. Unfortunately, these venues requiere alot of money to stay open. :-(
  5. MMcmil
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    MMcmil - June 20, 2013 10:57 pm
    I don't believe this is a concept marketing to the elite, however, I do get the feeling they don't have the slightest concept of their market. The following quote proves my point..
    "We cater to urban wine enthusiasts who desire the experience of making their own wines but who are not going to leave their comfortable City lifestyle to decamp to a vineyard.”
    Napa is not urban wine enthusiasts. We are people who have purposely decamped to a vineyard.
  6. farmboy
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    farmboy - June 20, 2013 11:51 pm
    Well so much for the promises of a venue for the community at large which could be used by community based performing arts organizations. I thought the City's generous gift of tax dollars to retire the NVOH debt was to ensure that. Guess, once they got the money all the promises made to the city and hundreds of community investors disappeared. Now those tax dollars will be used to support a for profit corporation. Wonder if the Mayor and Council have any problems with this? The NVOH Board never ceases to amaze me with its insulated arrogance. If they can't survive financially as a venue without any mortgage or rent to pay, maybe they need to look at their administrative overhead. Let's see if anybody even cares.
  7. Bauhausfan
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    Bauhausfan - June 21, 2013 6:01 am
    300 nights a year programming. Really? This is not an urban city with a large enough "sophisticated" audience they want to draw as customers. Cabaret in the country is basically the model. This area is not the same in the winter as the summer when it comes to tourist influx. There isn't enough of an audience with "discriminating taste" I believe to support it in the area. It's very hard to even get people from the town of Sonoma, which is not very far away, to come to entertainment events in Napa, especially during the week, unless they are a really big name and have the ability to draw people. It's hard to get people from Fairfield and Vallejo and Novato which are fairly close to come here for events. Again, especially during the week. They have to make a concerted effort after working all day to come here. They don't tend to do it.

  8. Wineandfood
    Report Abuse
    Wineandfood - June 21, 2013 11:29 am
    because it can't survive financially.
    Report Abuse
    CHINCHILER - June 21, 2013 12:49 pm
    Run for your lives!!!!!! The whole world has gone mad
    Report Abuse
    CHINCHILER - June 21, 2013 1:23 pm
    ????"We cater to urban wine enthusiasts who desire the experience of making their own wines but who are not going to leave their comfortable City lifestyle to decamp to a vineyard.” ????? We need a place for people who like to make beer also.
  11. firefrorefiddle
    Report Abuse
    firefrorefiddle - June 23, 2013 1:03 am
    Pretty hard to "maintain the rights of existing seat holders" if you rip my seats out of the floor. (Yes, yes, I got Bob Almeida's email and it didn't help.) Oh well, there was a couple of grand down the drain. COPIA, Lincoln Theater, and now the Opera House. Napa is a hick, aggie town, bless its heart. It hasn't got any culture outside of food and wine, and never will. And that's perfectly fine by me. I love it for its food and wine. And I know exactly where to go for cutting edge theater, music, art and dance - barely an hour's drive south. And as for the programming projections for this new venture? Bauhausfan's got that right: "300 nights a year programming. Really?" You've GOT to be kidding. Venues in SF can't come CLOSE to 300 nights per year. City Winery will be filling those nights with amateur yodeling open mikes.
  12. surfdog
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    surfdog - June 24, 2013 12:57 pm
    Home come on this lousy piece of irresponsible "journalism" is so easily accessible on the Register web site, and the other article that was presented by Board CEO Bob Almeida with the explanation of the facts concerning the possible leasing of the Opera House by City Winery is hard, if not impossible to find. I find this article, which only has partial mis information, and was released without the comments and statements made by Opera House Staff HOURS BEFORE the article was released with a comment by the writer that "No Opera House Staff Available For Comment", then mysteriously "edited" with comment by Opera House Management after the fact to be a horrendous dis service to the citizens of Napa, Opera House Members, Seat Holders, and Donors. Bob Almeida, Board of Trustees past and present, have worked tirelessly, voluntarily, and vigorously to provide programming and funds to keep this venue running and an asset to the Community..They should be highly commended and respected.
  13. glenroy
    Report Abuse
    glenroy - June 25, 2013 2:22 pm
    For decades it was just an empty shell....redevelopment tried to tear it down because it hadn't been used for 30 years prior to that.
  14. tommerle
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    tommerle - June 25, 2013 10:30 pm
    Another pipe dream floats through Napa. Are not these city slickers aware of Silo's which seems about to close because they couldn't combine music with wine in a cabaret style and stay out of another kind of red that shows up in a ledger.
  15. PritchardSays
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    PritchardSays - June 26, 2013 7:41 pm
    Oh my goodness, please read farmboy's posting. He took the words right out of my mouth.
    Maybe cut the pay of the Executive staff (How much does their Exec Director Make Again?)

    The city gave them $1.5 million, which was now obviously a complete waste. So will that no longer be a forgivable loan?

    The City Council and Mayor should hold them accountable and make them pay it back. It was a waste of money to give it to them anyway. I understand they used state money before that would have been taken away from us, but that just makes the state worse off. We still pay for it people.

    City Council & Mayor: What about that $1.5 million loan. Can you make them cough it up now???

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