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Margaret Biever Mondavi Opera House Theater 

By Paula Harris

SONOMA COUNTY isn't the only region experiencing arts venue expansion. Over in downtown Napa, organizers broke ground last week on the new Margaret Biever Mondavi Opera House Theater, a 475-seat facility located on Main Street. Built in 1879, the original opera house has been closed since 1914--but is slated to reopen in 2002.

"It's a jewel of a theater, with a beautiful auditorium, golden-age carpentry, and a balcony," says Michael Savage, newly appointed executive director of the Opera House Theater. If his name sounds familiar, it should: Savage, a Calistoga resident, has worked as managing director of the San Francisco Opera for the last six years.

Renovations will include extending the back by 25 feet to increase the size of the facility and putting in a tower in which to hoist scenery. The look of the original façade will be retained. The major improvement will be the addition of the Opera House Cafe, a full restaurant and two bars, with a seating capacity of 200-plus, which will also be used as a venue for performances and special events.

Savage says programming for the nonprofit facility will include not just opera, but also operetta, musical theater, dance, plays, symphony music, chamber music, recitals, and poetry readings.

The total project will cost between $10 and $11 million. "We still need to raise $2 million," says Savage. Most of the money raised so far has winery ties. The major donor is the Mondavi family, which has gifted $2.2 million. Joseph Phelps of Joseph Phelps Vineyards is another big donor.

Savage says he is excited by the current emphasis on cultural arts in the North Bay. "All this activity feeds on itself and creates momentum," he observes. "We will be a very versatile regional theater and hope to collaborate with other regional theaters in the Bay Area in planning events and sharing artists."

As for patrons, Savage says the Opera House Theater will promote tickets sales on the Internet and draw in tourists planning to visit the Wine Country. "We are hoping that our catch area will be much greater than just the local areas. We want to increase the attraction worldwide," he says, adding that when the San Francisco Opera first put ticket sales on the Internet, the first customers were from New Zealand and Sweden. "The Internet has revolutionized how you promote arts events," he says.

From the August 24-30, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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