Villa Zanetta's Summer Opera Festival: Who We Are

When the houselights dim for the first performance of the 2008 Villa Zanetta Summer Opera Festival, our 50th season begins—two happy weeks of opera, choral concerts, guest artists, and lectures. This summer we feature five performances of Mozart's comic opera, Cosi fan tutte, the same opera heard in the festival's innaugural season in 1958.

Old Villa Zanetta

In 1957 Robert "Diesel" Edwards and Hayne Williams, who had recently purchased an estate called Villa Zanetta in Sonoma Valley, asked their friend Gabriel Michaels to join them as music director at a new performing arts center they were creating on their property.

Cosi fan tutte 1958

The first Opera Festival in 1958 featured two performances of a shortened version of Mozart's comic opera, Cosi fan tutte (In the archival photo to the right, Roger Hewitt and Bart Howell are Ferrando and Guglielmo). It was accompanied by two grand pianos played by Gabriel Michaels and his assistant. The opera was sung in a new English translation by Ruth and Thomas Martin.

This small event had a huge effect, and the Festival grew quickly in size and sophistication. An orchestra was gradually assembled, and in 1965 when we performed Cosi again it was our first production with a full orchestra. Opening night receved a ten-minute ovation.

During the following three decades Diesel, Hayne, and Gabriel enhanced the cultural life of the Sonoma Valley beyond measure and they turned their little summer opera event into a major, year-round performing arts venue.

Boris Goldovsky

In 1970, Villa Zanetta's main performing hall, The Well Lit Theater, was innaugurated with a performance of Benjamin Britten's Opera, The Turn of the Screw.

At that time The Well Lit Theater was the most technically advanced performance space in Sonoma Valley and people took notice. In the new theater, the repertoire and scope of the Opera Festival grew.

The following season the great Russian stage director and teacher Boris Goldovky (left) directed Mozart's Don Giovanni and led a week-long workshop for stage directors. Two seasons later Albert Tazakauzas was guest director for a controversial production of Ravel's L'heure Espagnole.

With the partnership of Sonoma Valley's Bella Voce Chorale, we have become known for our refined and thought-provoking productions of beloved opera mainstays like Magic Flute, Pagliacci, Barber of Seville, The Elixir of Love, The Marriage of Figaro, and many more.

La Traviata Scene

Favorite operatic memories over the years include Don Pasquale with Ezio Fruggiero in the title role, La Traviata with Ruth Whatron as Violetta (right), and La Boheme with Franco Narducci and Christine Lavoy.

From its beginning our festival has always been about more than opera in the traditional sense. We also have produced a wide variety of 20th and 21st Century stage works and shows, including Godspell, Fiddler on the Roof, Brigadoon, Man of La Mancha, Guys and Dolls, and world premieres of works by Oscar Renuto, Philip Morgan, and Gian Carlo Forenze.

This summer we welcome you to our 50th Opera Festival, grounded in the genius of Mozart and the power of great music.

Please join us in Sonoma Valley for a superb production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte conducted by Willard Franklin and directed by Falcon Jennings. The colorful and amusing costumes are designed by Martha Jennings. The opera will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Please visit our 2008 season page for more details.