The Marina del Rey Summer Symphony maestro on the joys of playing Burton Chace Park

Frank Fetta is breaking new ground for the Marina del Rey Summer Symphony

Frank Fetta is breaking new ground for the Marina del Rey Summer Symphony

In the summer of 2000, Culver City Symphony Orchestra conductor and music director Frank Fetta took part in a musical experiment: Would people embrace a free summer classical concert at Burton Chace Park? Did they ever! Fetta and the orchestra spinoff that became the Marina del Rey Summer Symphony are now in the middle of their 15th full-on season of classical music concerts by the sea.

The 2015 season opened July 2 with Opera at the Shore, a vocalist showcase that drew more than 1,200 people. It continues at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 16, with Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles joining the symphony for a collaborative show and wraps up on Aug. 13 with the symphony’s first fully staged opera: “Pagliacci.”

— Joe Piasecki

What are some of the challenges of so much collaboration?

The challenges are in putting everything together. “Pagliacci” itself is going to involve somewhere between 175 and 200 people. We have a 75-voice choir and the orchestra will be 75 [musicians]. … But I find it a lot of fun. Pretty exciting, actually.

The challenges in Marina del Rey are because of it being outdoors — for one, we’re going to mic the principal singers with body mics. For the first time we have to bring in a dance floor, because the dancers can’t dance on cement. We don’t have any overhead lighting, so it’s all going to be front lighting. That presents a problem of blinding the performers, but I think it’ll be okay because the lighting is up high.

What about the joys?

After you start the collaboration it becomes a well-oiled machine. You do a music rehearsal, then you start doing stage rehearsals, then you see the costume designs and you begin to say, “Oh my gosh, I think this is really going to work.”
It’s like you’re going to make a wonderful cake.  You have the eggs, the flour, the spices, and you have the fruit cut. You set the oven; you hope the oven isn’t going to be too hot. And you watch the cake rise, and then you pull it out and it tastes so good. And you think, “This is absolutely worth every second I put in.”

I’m seeing the result in my mind, and when it materializes in real time and real space and you hear the audience respond, you know you’ve done it. You’ve done the right thing. That’s the reward.

How did you plan for Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles?

I’ve worked with them before. I got to work with them on concepts … what I wanted those dances to look like. For example, with “Bolero” I said normally it’s done with ballet dancers, but this is folklorico. I don’t want you to diminish your folklorico profile, but I want you to go beyond the boundaries of it. I want to have contemporary dance in there. I want it to be folklorico but also look Spanish and timeless and almost like Aztec flamenco or something like that, with a touch of Ida Rubenstein from the movies. And they’ve done it.

Was it your idea to stage an opera?

When I had the meeting with Beaches and Harbors, they asked what I could give them that would be really over-the-top. I said, “How about if I do ‘Pagliacci’”? I didn’t come in with that idea.

How does the setting contribute to performances?

The orchestra is happy because it’s such a beautiful location. From an audience point of view — and I come to a lot of the pop concerts — I love sitting up on the hill, no matter what’s going on up on the stage, and just looking at the boats, the lights, listening to the seals, watching the water, watching the moon, feeling the ocean breeze.