Napa’s Best, Refined. The 2012 Festival del Sole
Imagine for a minute the most beautiful sound you have ever heard.
Your child’s laughter. The exuberance of Joe Starkey yelling “Touchdown 49ers!” A sizzle of oxygen bubbles filling and bursting in the spaces between grains of sand opened by a Pacific wave retreating. A satisfied sigh after a sip of perfectly crafted, well-rested, complexly aromatic, deeply layered wine poured into your glass by the hand that made that very elixir you are holding. The first strings of your favorite concerto gently played in a vineyard, under the stars, with the one person you could never imagine being anywhere else with at the precise moment in time and space.
This July marks the seventh annual Festival del Sole, Napa Valley’s celebration of the refined spirit of classical music and sumptuous wine. Transplanting the traditional event of Tuscan embrasure of sun, community and music, a related (though independent) version of which has taken root in Northern California Wine Country and quickly becoming one of the premier luxury events on a calendar filled with equally renowned luxury and brevity.
A combination of talented classical musicians from across the globe, Napa viticulture, shared education and culinary feast, the Festival del Sole seeks to instill visitors and professionals of all kinds with a keen sensory experience deserving of the sights and atmosphere of this part of Earth. “The Festival del Sole is a celebration of the art of life,” says Jane Lerman, Public Relations Director for this year’s event.
Certainly, the marquee draw for interested attendees is the variety of musical performance filling the week-and-a-half schedule, but this would not be a Napa Valley party without lots of wine, beautiful and arresting art and gourmet food to savor. “The best thing about the Festival is not only are you getting great performances by world class artists, a chance to meet the country’s best winemakers and passionate people, along with unique networking opportunities, is that it is set against the backdrop of beautiful Napa Valley,” says Lerman.
The featured performers at this year’s Festival (running July 12 to 22) are promised to be among the best in the history of the event. Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga will host many of the performances, including the Opening Night Gala featuring celebrated mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and the San Francisco Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performing a selection of Handel arias under the authority of the renowned and award-winning conductor Nicholas McGegan.
While still relatively young in terms of national orchestras (having been founded in 1990), the Russian National Orchestra is among Europe’s most popular and renowned, performing innovative and traditional takes on the world’s richest selections of classical music. “We are lucky to be flying in the Russian National Orchestra for a once a year, unique experience,” says Lerman. Among the extensive history of their country’s affective art, the Grammy winning orchestra has been honored by the likes of Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev and called “a living symbol of the best in Russian art.” The Russian National Orchestra will be performing multiple times throughout the festival.
On Tuesday night at the idyllic Castello di Amorosa, the orchestra will perform along with Danielle de Niesse, a soprano and “leading lady of the New York Metropolitan Opera,” says Lerman.
The Russian National Orchestra will also be closing the Festival with a performance Sunday night at Castello di Amorosa with numerous stars of the classical music world, including pianist Hélène Grimaud and violinist Joshua Bell.
A genuine international guitar virtuoso from the instrument’s motherland (Spain), Angel Romero, son of the legendary Celedanio Romero, will bring intricate and hypnotic interpretations of classical songs both new and old Monday night for a private concert at La Herradura Ranch in St. Helena. Performing along with Maestro Romero will be cellist Nina Kotova and several members of the Russian National Orchestra.
Also visiting Wine Country from Russia will be the famous Bolshoi Ballet, performing along with the Russian National Orchestra for their first ever Napa Valley appearance. On Friday night at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville, dancers both lithe and graceful will perform selections from Getty, Tchaikovsky and Chopin, choreographed by Vladimir Vasiliev.
Among several local musical performers, Alma Desnuda from the San Francisco Bay Area, are a group of four positive-minded brothers best known for their rich harmonies, deep rhythms and inspirational lyrics, who describe their sound as California Acoustic Soul—a blend of Dave Mathews Band, Sublime and the Beatles. Recently, they have been recognized as one of the best local, live acts by their fans in several Bay Area publications.
Of course, the high-cultured Napan cannot survive on music alone. Multiple events both coinciding with the performances at Castello di Amorosa and across the Valley are sure to entice attendees.
On Sunday night at the Signorello Estates on the Silverado Trail between Yountville and the city of Napa, guests will have an opportunity to meet the author of the novel Under the Tuscan Sun and sample food representative of the region. “There will be a virtual release party of Frances Mayes’ new cookbook Tuscan Sun Cookbook, with Chef Michael McMillian cooking recipes paired with the best Napa wines,” says Lerman. The price of this exclusive meal ticket also includes an autographed cookbook and tickets to the Russian National Orchestra concert preceding the dinner.
Multiple luncheon and dinner events are scheduled at wineries up and down the Valley with winemakers from Far Niente, Cardinale, Alpha Omega and Castello di Amorosa.“People will get an insider’s look at Napa Valley, through the various events and locations, that a lot of tourists do not get a chance to see,” says Lerman. “You can talk to the winemakers and winery owners in very intimate settings. People will also get the chance to mingle with the musicians, as they will be attending all the events they are not performing at.”
“Another new event we are adding this year that people cannot miss is a series of four plays, performed all day on Saturday, which we are calling sort of extreme theater experience,” says Lerman. “The actors in the plays have 24 hours to learn their parts before performing on stage.” Appearing at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville will be some of Hollywood’s most famous and revered stars, including Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber and Hugh Dancy, with more performers to still to be added.
Earlier on Saturday, visitors are invited to participate in a wellness event in Oakville. Nicole Abiouness will host a session of intense yoga by the instructor who doubles as a winemaker. The session will be followed by a tasting of Abiousness’ own wines, including her refreshing rosé. “The Festival del Sole is a feel-good type of festival that people can just enjoy themselves at without any pressure,” says Lerman.
Pricing options for the festival are inclusive for all budgets (including multiple free performances throughout the schedule) and for individual concerts and events. VIP packages and the Allegro Pass offer exclusive access to the festivals performers, culinary stars and best Napa Valley winemakers. They are well worth the cost. Tickets and packages are available through the Napa Valley Festival del Sole website (http://festivaldelsole.org/tickets/) or via phone at (707) 200-1314.
James Hritz grew up in the Wine Country, but has written for various publications across the country. He is happy to be writing and working in his home again.