The architect James Polshek is said to have been inspired by the hills of the Napa Valley when he designed the undulating roofline of the former Copia, the American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts.
The ups and downs of it, however, might also serve as a metaphor for the arts in the Napa Valley, which yet again endured a year of, well, ups and downs.
It was a year of shakeups even before the Aug. 24 earthquake.
The biggest came with the reopening of the Napa Valley Opera House, henceforth to be known as City Winery Napa.
After the Opera House board cut a deal with New York impresario Michael Dorf, the Opera House went dark in December 2013 to reopen in April after a million-dollar makeover.
Gone were the rows of burgundy velvet seats, replaced by tables and chairs of a style described by the less enthusiastic as “college cafeteria.” The downstairs space, formerly somewhat weird and under used, had been turned into a stylish restaurant and bar that formed part of Dorf’s financial plan — that and the idea of serving food and beverages throughout performances upstairs.
Is it working? The restaurant got off to a rocky start, not because of its food, which is good, but because of its service, which was, at best, well-meaning but erratic.
From the upstairs theater, too, people shared experiences such as having a waiter drop a glass of water on a guest in the dark, or having to have a massage after twisting around to watch a show.
The deal with Dorf included giving the Napa Valley Opera House board 75 days or nights a year to schedule performances, and these have included performances by Lucky Penny Productions to a promise to bring back the Capitol Steps next spring. This irreverent troupe of former U.S. government staffers who manage to find a song to fit every national calamity was one of the inspired introductions to Napa by Evy Warshawski, who during her reign as director at the Opera House brought in a dazzling variety of performers — world music, dance, theater, jazz and classical music, as well as the immensely popular Idol NV that she created to showcase talented local youth.
In retrospect, those days now seem like the golden era of the 21st century Opera House. Warshawski, who for the last two years was dividing her time between Napa and Southern California where she was managing a performing arts program at Santa Clarita College, said recently she’ll be back in Napa full time soon and will return to writing her column, The Arts Landscape, for the Register.
Another downward dip in the arts scene came with the announcement that the Napa Valley Playhouse was going on hiatus, after losing its venue at the River Park Shopping Center. Under the artistic direction of Michael Ross, the Playhouse (formerly Dreamweavers Theatre) had taken a profound leap upward, although it remained Napa’s all-volunteer troupe.
Ross said the group is by no means discouraged or disbanding. “We feel extremely proud of what the Napa Valley Playhouse has accomplished,” he said. “Our final productions in that space were of superior quality, received stellar reviews and enriched the community.
“Despite a somewhat dubious location, our theatergoers were always delighted to discover the hidden jewel box and artistic treasures that lay within.
Ross noted that in 2015 the Napa Valley Playhouse will be “considering several different opportunities for collaboration.”
One of these might be the inspired idea of Lucky Penny Productions, the little-engine-that-could theater company of the valley.
Recognizing that finding a venue is the continuing challenge of actors in Napa (they got their start performing in the lobby of the Wine Train), founders Taylor Bartolucci and Barry Martin decided to find a low-overhead place to convert to a community arts center that would include rehearsal and classroom space, an art gallery — and a theater.
Since March, volunteers have been at work converting a former tile show house on California Boulevard into a much-needed, no-frills center for the arts in Napa.
At last report, they’d raised more than $100,000 of their goal of $275,000, and are going forward with their first production, the musical “Oliver!,” which is scheduled to run Jan. 23-Feb. 1.
In Yountville, the Lincoln Theater, still weighed down by its cumbersome new name, the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at the Lincoln Theater, continued to try to find a path to keeping its doors open and its splendid stage in use.
In the spring, Michael Madden, who valiantly tried to keep the theater operating, even after it went dark in debt in 2011, was out of a job as director. But he had nothing but praise for his successor, Robert Cole, an experienced performing arts executive, who transformed Cal Performances at UC Berkeley into a magnet drawing arts lovers from all over the Bay Area and who oversaw the opening of the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.
Since his arrival, Michael Guttman, international violinist and conductor, has come on board as director of Symphony Napa Valley, formed after the demise of the Napa Valley Symphony, and led the symphony in a highly praised performance in November.
What’s ahead for the Lincoln Theater this year, no one knows, but one only earnestly wishes that some benefactor in 2015 will give them enough money to change their name — and relieve arts editors from having to keep straight the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater and the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center, which had the name first.
The latter continues to be one of the consistent bright stars in the arts landscape of the valley. Instrumental music, theater, dance, song, they put their still-new venue to use throughout the year, delivering high-quality performances.
One highlight this year had to be the inspired production of “As You Like It,” directed by Jennifer King, the artistic director of the theater, who has been spending her summers in London, and bringing back inspiration for her students. I am sure United Airlines would love to figure out a way to charge her for extra luggage.
The August earthquake took its toll on the arts, delivering severe damage to Napa’s two remaining jewel box theaters, the Jarvis Conservatory and the Uptown Theatre.
Fortunately, in both cases, the owners, William and Letitia Jarvis, and George Altamura, stepped up and completed the repairs in record time; and both venues were able to reopen by November.
There was good news, too: The Film Festival dazzled the valley with four days of film; the Napa Valley Museum, which not so many years ago was nearly evicted for not paying rent for some time, presented a good solid series of shows; as did the di Rosa, which also was near the epicenter of the August quake. Open Studios and Arts in April continue to put a spotlight on the arts scene in Napa.
And the year closed with the performances by the Napa High choirs. Travis Rogers continues to work his magic — how many years is it now? — of directing the choral music programs. As the weather reports for Dec. 10 and 11 predicted wild storms and fierce winds, the Napa High website reported, “Yes, Virginia, there will be a concert” on those nights. And thank goodness, there was: the stellar voices of hundreds of high school students inspired to sing.