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Italian Opera Festival comes to the OC in 2010

May 22, 2009 |  3:15 pm

LOGO IAOF OK It looks as if 2010 is shaping up as Southern California's Year of Opera Festivals.

In November, Los Angeles arts officials announced Ring Festival LA, a 10-week, citywide event to be held April 15 through June 30, 2010. It will have as its centerpiece Los Angeles Opera's production of Richard Wagner's epic four-cycle "Der Ring des Nibelungen," the city's first presentation of the cycle.

And on May 30 in Dana Point, a different set of officials farther south plan to announce a new Italian Opera Festival, scheduled for  Aug. 22-Sept.15, 2010. At left is the dandy logo for the newly formed Italian Opera Festival Foundation, which is producing the fest and hopes to make it an annual event.

 While the location has not been finalized, organizers are talking to Dana Point about using its ocean-view Lantern Bay Park for the outdoor festival, to be loosely modeled after the Tuscia Operafestival in Viterbo, Italy. The budget for the 22-day fest is estimated to fall between $3 million and $4 million.

 Like L.A.'s plan to assemble Wagner-inspired art, events and cuisine around the "Ring," the idea is to involve local arts venues and businesses with a connection to Italian cars, clothes and cuisine in sponsoring the nonprofit event and create an "Italian Village" beyond the borders of the festival.  While artists have not yet been booked, the festival, helmed by conductor Stefano Vignati, will include Vignati-directed performances of full-length Italian operas as well as individual performances. No opera companies will be brought in; rather, the operas will be cast with guest stars. Organizers are also developing the Sunrise Emerging Artists program to send young opera singers to train in Italy.

Stefano B-N conc Barbara Manconi -- chief executive of Vert Brands, which is marketing the festival -- says that it's pure coincidence that the festival will fall in the same year as the Wagnerama.  Instead, the new fest was precipitated by the effective shutdown of Orange County's financially strapped Opera Pacific late last year.

As Manconi describes it, Vignati, who is involved in the Tuscia Opera Festival, was brought in to advise Opera Pacific on solving its financial woes. While he was unable to come up with a quick fix for that company, Vignati suggested developing the new festival, naming Dana Point a sister city to Viterbo and thus leveraging the power of two countries and cultural tourism to build support.

Not that we're interested in provoking a festival war, but the announcement of the OC venture could not help but remind Culture Monster that most newcomers to opera tend to be more attracted to Italian opera -- that is, pretty Puccini and voluptuous Verdi -- than the intellectual rigors of German composer Wagner. When asked about this, Manconi acknowledged that much Italian opera is easier listening than "heavy" Wagner. "The music is so compelling -- even if they don't understand the language, they are beautiful love stories," she says.

-- Diane Haithman

Photos: Logo provided by the Italian Opera Festival. Stefano Vignati from Tuscia Opera Festival.