Festival Napa Valley
A performance at last year’s Festival Napa Valley | Credit: Bob McLenahan

As San Francisco Opera celebrates its centennial and the San Francisco Symphony approaches its 112th season, a “mere two decades” seems like a short span of time, yet for Festival Napa Valley, it means a host of rich memories. When the festival was founded, it was with the idea of friends making music together in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

The festival is preparing for its 2023 run, July 8–23, and as always, each event is paired with a dinner at one of the region’s famous wineries.

“Our 2023 summer season features one-of-a-kind performances and events surrounded by the incomparable beauty and enchantment of Napa Valley,” says President and CEO Rick Walker.

Robin Baggett, chair of the festival’s board of directors, adds, “This year’s festival features an incredible diversity of artists and programs from around the world. We are thrilled to offer affordable programming and food and wine events that showcase the very best of Napa Valley.”

Gordon Getty
Gordon Getty | Credit: Emily Polar

A special festival event is the July 18 “Seasons of Hope” program, with songs by Gordon Getty and Lera Auerbach’s Symphony No. 6 (“Vessels of Light”), the latter featuring cellist Kristina Reiko Cooper and soprano Ronit Widmann-Levy. Constantine Orbelian conducts Festival Orchestra Napa.

The works by Getty, who is a funder of SF Classical Voice, are “Shenandoah,” with soprano Lisa Delan; the world premiere of “Annie Laurie”; and the Joan and the Bells cantata, with soprano Melody Moore and baritone Lester Lynch.

Lynch says, “These compositions hold a special place in my heart, allowing me to delve into the most vulnerable aspect of the human experience. Gordon Getty’s Joan and the Bells is one of my most favorite compositions from this living legend and composer.

“Through Mr. Getty’s lens, we are able to see Joan of Arc at her most vulnerable and yet heroic manner. Toward the end of the cantata, when her prosecutor, Cauchon, my role, repeats her words as she is being burned at the stake for heresy, even he was transformed by this moment, watching the 19-year-old succumb to the fires. The ending chorus following the horrible event is absolutely heavenly and extremely moving.”

Delan told SFCV: “Gordon Getty first penned his arrangement of ‘Shenandoah’ for my album with pianist Kevin Korth, released on the Pentatone label in 2016. It was a gorgeous rendition for soprano, piano, and cello (Matt Haimovitz), and I instantly fell in love with it.

“The composer subsequently adapted the piece to include choir and orchestra, and I am thrilled to revisit its lush and lovely tones with the full ensemble on the July 18 concert with Festival Napa Valley.”

Melody Moore
Soprano Melody Moore, a former Adler Fellow, is returning to the Bay Area to sing at Festival Napa Valley | Courtesy of Festival Napa Valley

Moore calls Getty “a master of the folk tale in song. In his music, we have his interpretation of ‘Annie Laurie,’ the great Scottish mourning of unrequited love made famous by tenor John McCormack in 1910. ‘Shenandoah,’ the ‘sea shanty’ of torn love, remains an American folk tune of renown, and Mr. Getty brings us the famous tune with his own melodic scope.

“Finally, [there is] a cantata ‘scena’ from the trial and execution of the visionary Joan of Arc, with lyrics that present what she must have thought during the moments before her death as the death knell tolled. Women are featured highly in ‘Seasons of Hope.’ I believe the strength of women’s stories is spread throughout this program of depth and heroism.”

A film of Getty’s opera Goodbye, Mr. Chips will be shown at the Cameo Cinema in St. Helena on July 12.

Of Auerbach’s symphony, cellist Cooper says:

“I first conceived the vision of a grand musical project commemorating the life of Chiune Sugihara when I learned of the incredible story of this righteous and humble Japanese man. It was a profound realization to know tha, were it not for his heroic actions of saving thousands through his transit visas against the orders of his government, my husband and three beautiful children would never have existed.

“My husband’s father, Irving Rosen, was the recipient of Sugihara’s visa #1628, which ensured his survival. Thus, from the ashes and horror of the Holocaust, he was able to build a new family and life. As a Japanese American, I understand how deeply Chiune Sugihara would have had to draw from within himself to defy his superiors in a culture where this would go against every social more that culture encapsulates.

Kristina Reiko Cooper
Kristina Reiko Cooper with a photo of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat honored in Lera Auerbach’s Symphony No. 6 | Courtesy of Festival Napa Valley

“On the one hand, it was an outstanding act of courage; on the other, in the ways of the Samurai Warrior Bushido code, it was also the simplest act in the world — to just do what is right.

“Having chosen to become part of the Jewish people, I also recognize the value of hakarat hatov, the recognition of good deeds. I was inspired to recognize this courageous man the only way I know how, through the transcendence of music.

“It has been my dream, and now, incredibly, a reality, to bring this project to fruition through Lera Auerbach’s amazing and beautiful musical score and to celebrate the preciousness of life by shining light on an ultimately very simple act by Chiune Sugihara. May his actions continue to inspire us all.”

The opening concert on July 14 features Festival Orchestra Napa, with Kyle Dickson conducting and Alexander Malofeev as the soloist in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. (Malofeev also gives a recital on July 16 at the Bouchaine Vineyards.) Yang Bao is both the composer and the pianist for a world premiere on the program.

The concert also offers Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with soloist Pablo Sáinz Villegas, who says, “I’m honored to open Festival Napa Valley with one of the most universal and beautiful pieces ever written for guitar and orchestra, which represents the essence of Spanish music. This piece welcomes the listener to a journey through Spain and to experience the unbridled passion of the heartbeat of its people through the magic of the six strings of the guitar.”

Festival Napa Valley
Festival Napa Valley

Dancers who left Russia after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine make up a special dance company which appears at the festival on July 21.

Reunited in Dance Artistic Director Xander Parish says this will be the company’s first appearance outside its home at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County. “I am very proud to be dancing alongside close friends, wonderful dancers, all of whom left Russia at the outset of the war. My foremost desire in directing this group is to give the dancers the chance to perform pieces they love, pieces we performed in Russia and perhaps thought we wouldn’t dance again.

“The program I’ve put together is largely made up of such pieces — big classical pas de deux plus a few more contemporary numbers, such as Christopher Wheeldon’s incomparable After the Rain, performed by Andrea Laššáková and Adrian Blake Mitchell, both former soloists of the Mikhailovsky Theater, and BA//CH Solo, created and danced by Ilia Jivoy, a former Mariinsky colleague of mine. I will perform Eric Gauthier’s comedy number Ballet 101, giving an unusual demonstration of classical ballet technique.

“Ukrainian dancers Yekaterina Chebykina and Vsevolod Maevsky (both former Mariinsky soloists) will be performing excerpts from Swan Lake and Flames of Paris. American ballerina Joy Womack (formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet and later a principal with the Astrakhan Ballet) will be performing Flames of Paris with Maevsky and also in our Paquita suite, a selection of beautiful solos from the famous [Marius] Petipa staple.”

Xander Parish
Xander Parish, whose Reunited in Dance company will give a ballet gala at the festival on July 21 | Credit: Darian Volkova

Parish adds:

When our worlds were turned upside down after the invasion of Ukraine, many of us who had to leave Russia didn’t know when or if we would dance again, especially the classical Russian repertoire, which we love and in which we were trained.

Thanks to the incredible generosity and vision of Elizabeth Segerstrom, Reunited in Dance was born a few months after our initial dispersion with the aim of bringing back together these displaced dancers to give hope, stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian friends, and dance together with the sole aim of promoting peace in the small way we can.

I must stress that we are not here to stand against Russia — many of us are Russian, with family there, and others of us chose to go and live there, assimilating into the incredibly rich culture, where ballet is honored and thrives. Dance is one of the most universal languages in our world, and we have the privilege of speaking it with a Russian accent.

We all have our own stories of leaving our lives behind in Russia, often overnight, along with our jobs, apartments, friends, and close family members, and although we know that our experiences cannot begin to compare with the horror faced by so many Ukrainians, I felt it extremely important to support the dancers who bravely chose to do the right thing and take a stand, not just with words but with their actions, unable to reconcile remaining in a country at war with its closest neighbor. Thankfully, many of our group have since found new jobs around the world, from Holland to Australia; some are still unemployed.

I’m so glad to be able to give hope to all our dancers, to remember what it’s like to go out onstage with your friends, in costume and makeup, under the hot lights, striving to execute the classical ballet technique we were drilled in for years. Especially when Russian culture is at risk of being canceled, we want to keep that flame burning because these treasures, from Tchaikovsky to Petipa (himself a Frenchman who chose Russia), belong to the world and deserve to be seen. We are also grateful to you, our audience, for giving us the chance to do what we love, to dance together for you.”