Still Hitting the High Notes

Posted June 29, 2016 by The Argonaut in This Week

The Marina del Rey Symphony returns to Burton Chace Park with “Opera by the Shore”

By Christina Campodonico

Loren L. Zachary National Vocal Competition finalists Christie Conover and Jungwon Choi are among the top talents performing with the symphony

Loren L. Zachary National Vocal Competition finalists Christie Conover and Jungwon Choi are among the top talents performing with the symphony

From Latin music to classic opera, the Marina del Rey Symphony is bringing many musical flavors back to Burton Chace Park for its 16th season of free seaside concerts.

This summer’s schedule kicks off on Thursday, July 7, with “Opera at the Shore,” a program of arias that showcases some of the nation’s finest young opera talent — winners and finalists of this year’s Loren L. Zachary National Vocal Competition.

“It’s an operatic version of ‘The Voice’ or ‘America’s Got Talent,’” explains Marina del Rey Symphony Music Director Frank Fetta.

First-place winner Vanessa Vasquez, runner up John Viscardi and a number of competition finalists are set to perform pieces that include excerpts from Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries,” Puccini’s “La Bohème,” Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” Bizet’s “Carmen” and “The Impossible Dream” from “The Man of La Mancha.”

The Marina del Rey Symphony follows up “Opera at the Shore” with “Tango y Más,” a program inspired by Latin music and dance, on Aug. 4. The orchestra accompanies Mexican folkdance troupe Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles as they tango and dance to songs such as Arturo Márquez’s Danzon No. 2, Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” Carlos Gardel’s “Tango por una cabezo” from John William’s “Scent of a Woman,” and excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s “Westside Story.” A mariachi band will also accompany the MdR symphony on a few of the songs.

The Marina del Rey Symphony closes their summer series on Aug. 18 with an especially grand finale — a fully-staged production of “Madame Butterfly.”

The production will be done in a “traditional” style, says Fetta, with a fully-costumed cast clothed in Japanese regalia and a minimal set of cherry blossom trees and screens. The marina itself plays a role as the backdrop for the tragic tale about a young Japanese geisha who marries an American lieutenant sojourning on the island nation of Japan. He later abandons her and takes a new bride. Their tortured love story plays out on a hill overlooking Nagasaki harbor.

“The opera, all throughout, has a water orientation,” says Fetta.

The classic Puccini opera also holds a special place in Fetta’s heart. When he was a conservatory piano student at Ithaca College in upstate New York, Fetta saw an ad for choristers to join the Ithaca Civic Opera’s production of “Madame Butterfly.” Singing in the show intrigued him, so he signed up.

“I went nuts for opera, being right in the middle of all those songs, all that music, all that vibration,” he says.

It was music to his ears, in other words, and he hopes it will be the same for those who attend.

“The treatment that Puccini gave to the opera, the music is so exquisite. I don’t think there’s anybody that can be immune to this poor Japanese woman marrying this American,” says Fetta. “The poignancy and pathos of that theatrical situation, it tugs at your heart strings and it’s done with this incredibly beautiful music.”

“Opera at the Shore” happens from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 7, at Burton Chace Park, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. The concert is free, but parking in the marina can cost $7 to $15. For more information, call (310) 305-9545 or visit


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