Stalled O.C. Italian opera festival plan is revived in new location
A stalled bid to bring grand opera back to Orange County is trying to get back on track, with the announcement that an Italian Opera Festival, envisioned as the kickoff to an annual event, has been booked for June 2012 at the new Soka Performing Arts Center (pictured) in Aliso Viejo.
The same presenter, Tuscia Operafestival of Viterbo, Italy, tried but failed in 2009-10 to fill the ongoing void left by the late-2008 bankruptcy of Opera Pacific. It got city backing for the first installment of an annual outdoor harborfront festival in Dana Point, but plans for a 10-day event in September 2010 with a budget of about $2 million were quietly abandoned amid concerns that the money couldn’t be raised.
Claudio Ferri, the Tuscia festival’s executive director, said Friday that fundraising has begun for a June 1-12, 2012, festival at Soka University that would include three performances of “Pagliacci” and two concerts –- Verdi’s Requiem and a Puccini program.
There would also be an assortment of opera-education events, including an hourlong “Let’s Learn Opera” presentation for children of Rossini’s “Cinderella.” In charge is artistic director and conductor Stefano Vignati, who leads the Tuscia Operafestival and an annual Baroque Festival in Viterbo, a city of about 60,000 people 50 miles north of Rome. The same production of “Pagliacci” would then be seen in July 2012 at the Tuscia Operafestival.
Tenor Francesco Medda is the only confirmed cast member for “Pagliacci” and the concerts, Ferri said.
David Palmer, general manager of the 1,034-seat Soka Performing Arts Center, said Monday that the booking is a rental, with no role for the university as an organizer or funder. “We have provided them with what we believe to be a very good rental package” in hopes of giving the festival a good chance to establish itself, Palmer said.
Ferri said the projected budget of about $1.3 million includes the cost of bringing 35 to 40 musicans from Italy and augmenting them with local hires at union scale. He said the organizers expect to receive funding from corporate sponsors and the Italian government.
Dana Point, a sister city of Viterbo, will still be involved, Ferri said; plans include art exhibitions and a “Puccini’s Women” display of historic costumes worn by Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi and others, at coastal resorts in Dana Point about 10 miles south of the festival site.
Lisa Bartlett, a Dana Point City Council member who had backed the 2010 festival plan before it was abandoned, said Monday that she hopes the Tuscia group's Soka event will be a step toward establishing a larger outdoor annual festival at Dana Point's Lantern Bay Park. She said Dana Point officials will monitor how fundraising goes for the 2012 festival, "to see if it will be feasible in the future" to transplant it to Dana Point as a larger outdoor event.
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: Soka Performing Arts Center: Credit: RMA Photography