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measure

From left, Laura Rafaty, founder of Napa Shakes, Derek Jacobi, and Philippa Kelly, NapaShakes dramaturg.

There are times when I have to knock myself on the head to believe that I am really in Napa and not London, San Francisco or New York.

Last Saturday at the Lincoln Theater was one of them.

Yes, technically it wasn’t in Napa, but Yountville. But when I was growing up here, Yountville, like Napa, was not a place to find entertainment that reaches the heights of, well, as good as it gets.

We were there for the world premiere of “Measure + Dido,” a production that had brought to Napa Valley not just two Englishmen are two of the finest living actors, well, in the world, but the Folger Consort, a dazzling collection of talent from Washington, D.C.

After the debut at the Lincoln Theater, the production would go to the Green Center in Sonoma before it moves to the Kennedy Center in the nation’s capital. But there we were, seeing it in Yountville first.

It was heady stuff: scenes from Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” read from scripts, in a fascinating juxtaposition with others from Henry Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas.”

I knew “Measure”: it’s one of my favorites of Shakespeare, a witty, ironic study of politics, power and morals, or lack thereof. But to hear Jacobi read the lines of the wicked Angelo, the hypocritical judge who will behead a young man accused of illegal fornication unless the young man’s sister sleeps with him, was something I never expected to experience in this lifetime, let alone in Yountville.

And he was not the standout star but only one part of a thrilling production, a feat of imagination that connected “Measure” with “Dido and Aeneas.”

I’d never seen a production of this opera and only knew the story. More than one person in the audience mentioned to me that they were unfamiliar with the work. There lies the challenge; I found, nonetheless, that the sheer beauty of the music, rendered this moot.

To some extent, one supposes, the emotional impact of the two separate works gave way to an intellectual exercise. But still, it was, in sum, enthralling.

That “Measure + Dido” made its debut in the Napa Valley is due to the efforts of Laura Rafaty, founder of NapaShakes, who is determined to bring these stellar productions to “this Blessed Plot, this Earth, this Realm, this Napa Valley.”

It’s a challenge and something of an astonishing feat. The week before “Measure + Dido” opened, Rafaty emailed me at the Register noting that “Magic Men,” a show of hunky, half-clad, gyrating males was sold out that night at Lincoln; but her production, taking place only one week later, was not.

Our reviewer, Jess Lander, reported that Lincoln was packed with swooning women for “Magic Men.”

I am happy to report that “Measure + Dido,” by its own opening night, had filled the house quite respectably.

And the woman sitting next to me definitely swooned as the elfish Jacobi came on stage with the rest of the cast. In fact, she jabbed me with her elbow sighing, “There is he!”

Some feat when you consider that he was wearing a tuxedo, and not, you know, a Magic Man outfit.

All in all, a memorable night in Yountville.

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