By Gabe Meline
Cavorting among the perfectly coiffed and expensively dressed elite in the Napa Valley is not something I generally make a habit of, though with another year of attracting world-class talent to its credit, the Festival Del Sole may make a pearl-twirling debutante of me yet. Last year, it was lyric soprano Renee Fleming who inspired the winding, precipitous Trinity Road drive into Yountville, and though she called in sick at the last minute, Fleming's fill-in, Christine Brewer, appeared ably up for the task. Strauss' Don Juan was an extra bonus, but the real treat of the evening was cellist (and Festival Del Sole artistic director) Nina Kotova, undertaking Dvorák's Cello Concerto with all the fire and determination of a daredevil matador--in a stunning red dress, I should add. (When you go to gala affairs, you take note of things like stunning red dresses.)
It's Festival Del Sole time again, and red dresses both stunning and otherwise will flock to the breathtaking Lincoln Theater for the likes of flutist extraordinaire James Galway; conductor (and son of Sophia Loren) Carlo Ponti Jr.; and PBS staple Joshua Bell. (In an endearing experiment, Bell played on the streets of Washington, D.C., earlier this year. A 45-minute performance at a subway station yielded $32.17 in change, dumped into the violin case of his $4 million Stradivarius.) But as for me, I've got my Napa Valley chips on Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
An openly gay French pianist who commissions his concert attire from post-punk designer Vivienne Westwood, Thibaudet is noted mostly for his recordings of impressionist composers such as Debussy and Ravel; it's no surprise, then, that he has also dabbled in the work of jazz pianist Bill Evans and completed an exhaustive five-CD set of underperformed Erik Satie compositions. His latest recording, Aria--Opera Without Words, transcribes some of his personal favorite arias and overtures for the piano. "I don't have a voice, and I will never sing, because I am not a singer," Thibaudet has remarked, "but it was really the love of the human voice and the opera repertoire that made me do the project."
Opera has been transformed into a variety of muted (and mutated) forms, and robbing it of its libretto is risky business. Luckily for us, Thibaudet's love of the human voice translates not only into a fine recording, but also into what will surely be a lovely night out for Napa's finest with the Versace gown, the Vuitton heels and the lingering hint of caviar on the breath.
Jean-Yves Thibaudet performs on Friday, July 20, at the Lincoln Theater, 100 California Drive, Yountville. Tickets $45-$125. For more info and full schedule, visit www.festivaldelsole.com.