Entertainment & Arts

Italian opera festival launches at Aliso Viejo’s Soka arts center

A two-year effort to bring Italian opera to south Orange County will come to fruition Wednesday with the opening of the three-night Tuscia Operafestival at the Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo.

Organizers of the festival, an annual summer event in Viterbo, Italy, first announced in 2010 that they hoped to present a three-week festival that September at a harbor-front park in Dana Point. Logistical and funding problems ensued, and the focus shifted to Soka University, where a new 1,034-seat performing arts center opened last year.

Baritone Bruno Pratico, who appeared in Los Angeles Opera’s 2009 production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” will launch the festival Wednesday with “We are Born Funny,” an evening of comic arias and duets from Rossini and Donizetti that also features bass Marco Bussi.

Thursday’s program is an hour-long version of Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” geared toward children and families — a concert version, in costume, with three narrators who help to present the story.


The festival ends Friday with a concert version of Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” sans costumes and featuring Romina Casucci, Sergio Bologna and William Davenport. Tickets are $39 to $100 Wednesday and Friday and $20 to $100 Thursday.

Stefano Vignati, artistic director of the Tuscia Operafestival, will conduct a 54-member orchestra from Italy, augmented for “The Elixir of Love” by a chorus from the South Orange County High School of the Arts in Dana Point, and on Wednesday and Friday by 16 string players from the San Diego Youth Philharmonic Orchestra.  A costume exhibition from Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma, focusing on the outfitting of Puccini’s female characters, will be on display in the lobby during the festival.

Claudio Ferri, executive director of Tuscia Operafestival, said Tuesday that the budget for its inaugural visit to Orange County is $500,000, provided largely by sponsors in Italy. It’s scaled down from the 12-day, $1.3-million event organizers envisioned when they announced last June that Soka would be the venue. Ferri said the downscaling was due to time constraints related to preparations for the home festival in Viterbo, which opens in July.

There’s been an opera gap in Orange County since fall 2008, when Opera Pacific went bankrupt soon after the global financial meltdown. The Pacific Symphony stepped up last month with a concert version of  “La Boheme” at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; its 2012-13 season includes a semi-staged February performance of another Puccini classic, “Tosca.” 


Long Beach Opera, which takes a more avant-garde approach, visited the Irvine Barclay Theatre at UC Irvine in 2010 and 2011, performing Grigori Frid’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” and Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Moscow, Cherry Town.”

Ferri said that Tuscia Operafestival aims to return to Soka next spring with a full production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” using 3-D projections for scenery in a hall not designed for lowering set pieces from the rafters.


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