Festival Napa Valley benefits from fortunate timing — and generous donors
At the onset of 2021, when destination music festivals around the world were hemming and hawing about whether to go live this summer, Festival Napa Valley got busy. And somehow, the FNV team not only secured some of the music and performing arts world’s top talent — but also managed to launch brand-new initiatives, including the Manetti Shrem Opera Program, which brings fully staged productions (not just concert programs) to the festival lineup.
“This was our year to give back, thanking the community for 15 years of support.” Charles Letourneau, vice president and director of artistic planning
From July 16 through July 25, the wine country festival will celebrate its 15th season (a milestone that would have been commemorated last year had things been different) with an outdoor concert program featuring morning and daytime concerts at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia and patron dinners and performances at Charles Krug winery. Putting together a festival during a period of ever-changing regulations was no easy feat, yet this year’s scheduling process was more fortuitous than most, notes Vice President and Director of Artistic Planning Charles Letourneau, who has been with the festival since its inception. He was able to bring in Cuban American soprano Lisette Oropesa for her Napa debut, and secure superstar conductors Kent Nagano and James Conlon to usher in the new opera program (Nagano is conducting Gianni Schicchi starring Lucas Meachem, and Conlon takes the stage at the Opera Under the Stars gala). “In the world of music, it’s enormous,” says Letourneau, adding, “They were only able to come this summer because all their other gigs were canceled.”
In addition to being one of the few big festivals that did not go virtual or cancel, FNV also manages to be inclusive and affordable, juxtaposing debuts of young artists and up-and-coming talent with marquee names (including an under-the-radar performance by the star of the upcoming movie Aretha). For the first time, this year’s programming includes free morning concerts and $15 afternoon concerts made possible by the generosity of the festival’s sponsors and donors. Notes Letourneau: “This was our year to give back, thanking the community for 15 years of support and celebrating the return to live events.”
Based in New York City, Letourneau is intimately familiar with FNV’s competition — but he believes the Napa Valley music experience rises to the top. “It’s really the only festival in America that combines the incredible experience of being in arguably the food and wine capital of the U.S. with incredible natural beauty and all of these wineries,” he notes. “And we do all of this for different arts — we’re expecting the same caliber of art that you would expect at Carnegie Hall.”
Some of this year’s highlights will inevitably be bittersweet, including the tribute to Tony Bennett, a nod to the music legend who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and no longer performs. The concert (produced with the enthusiasm and input from Bennett’s family and benefiting the Alzheimer’s Foundation) showcases some of the crooner’s signature tunes and a star-studded list of performers — including Michael Feinstein and former members of Frank Sinatra’s backup band.
There will also be tributes to three of the festival’s most passionate supporters, shares FNV President and CEO Rick Walker. “2020 was a year of heartbreak and loss, the world over. In the festival family, we lost several of our closest friends and colleagues, including Ann Getty, Prescott Ashe and Joel Revzen. They each played a key role in creating something beautiful and enduring with Festival Napa Valley, in a world that needs more beauty,” Walker says. Getty, a longtime donor, will be honored at the festival’s opening night concert. Ashe, also a donor, will be commemorated with the Prescott Ashe Scholarship for a promising student of the festival’s Blackburn Music Academy. And Revzen, the award-winning conductor who died of COVID-19 last year, will be memorialized through the Joel Revzen Conducting Fellowship. A final note on logistics — chairs will be spaced accordingly; daytime concerts are sans intermission (to prevent mingling); and festival staffers have been vaccinated.