California Opera festival opens with full weekend

The Fresno BeeJuly 24, 2013 

Constantine Pappas

Edna Garabedian has a lot to smile about these days. Despite a serious accident last month — a fall down the stairs while directing a Visalia production of "Les Miserables" — she's recovered enough to run her beloved annual California Opera summer festival, now in its 14th year.

The educational focus of this edition of the festival adds another smile as well. Comic opera is an emphasis at workshops and rehearsals, all building toward the festival's fully staged production Aug. 4 of "The Barber of Seville."

Garabedian assures us she's being well taken care of, with the music "healing" body and soul.

"All of the artists are so supportive," she says. "They're fighting over who's going to be moving the wheelchair, who's carrying the cane, who's fetching the water."

Here's a rundown on the festival, which opens tonight at the Fresno Art Museum and continues through Aug. 9.

What's on this weekend? The festival opens 7 p.m. today with the traditional "Meet the Artists Showcase." Students and the festival's faculty will offer their personal song selections.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, the annual "Evening in Memory" honors board, staff, faculty, members, patrons and performers who died throughout the year. This year's concert especially honors Petra Van Horn, a longtime costume designer for Fresno Lyric Opera and California Opera.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, artists of the summer festival perform their favorite comedic works in "Musical Comique."

How is the festival structured? This year, 35 students from as far away as China are participating. They're joined by faculty members from the professional opera world. Public performances feature both students and faculty.

Who's new on the faculty this year? George and Barbara Skipworth are the newest additions. George Skipworth, a noted international conductor, will work with young artists and take on baritone roles in "The Barber of Seville" and in a highlight program featuring "Rigoletto" and "The Mikado." Barbara Skipworth, a soprano concert artist, will work with young artists.

Centerpiece production: Most performances during the festival will be held at the Fresno Art Museum's Bonner Auditorium, but "The Barber of Seville," the fully staged production, will be held at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre in Clovis (2 p.m. Aug. 4). Conducted by Geoffrey Gallegos, the cast includes Constantine Pappas as Figaro, George Skipworth as Basilo, Jamie Bonetto as Rosina and Robert Vann as Count Almavia.

Aren't there usually two fully staged productions? Yes, but Garabedian says her injuries this year caused her to shift to just one full production. (She also plans several upcoming winter performances, including "Hansel and Gretel" at the Tower Theatre.)

She had hoped this summer to offer a staged version of "Les Miserables," but instead has planned a festival-closing program Aug. 9 titled "The Mind and the Masses: Hugo and Shakespeare," highlighting the relationship between Victor Hugo, Giuseppe Verdi, William Shakespeare and Claude-Michael Schönberg, the composer of "Les Miserables."

Details: For an expanded list of festival events, go to calopera.org. All performances are free with donations accepted. Phone: (559) 225-6737.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, dmunro@fresnobee.com and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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