By Michael Aushenker
Arias ring out tonight from the band shell at Burton Chace Park as Marina del Rey Summer Symphony Musical Director Frank Fetta launches the group’s 15th season with “Opera at the Shore.”
The annual engagement featuring singers who came to Fetta’s attention during the Loren L. Zachary Competition is, however, only the beginning of a series of free contemporary classical music concerts Fetta has planned for the marina in the weeks ahead.
Dubbed “Symphonic Thursdays,” this year’s lineup also includes performances highlighting young, contemporary stars of classical music and a night dedicated to movie soundtrack music. But don’t bring up Broadway Star Bernadette Peters’ Aug. 24 engagement — she’s bringing her own 10-piece orchestra, which for Fetta and his 75 musicians means one less chance to perform at a cherished venue.
“I like the casualness of it,” Fetta said of his annual outdoor concerts in Marina del Rey. “And more than any place I play anywhere, families come.”
For tonight’s “Opera at the Shore,” Tijuana tenor Cesar Sanchez belts out “Grenada,” Kiri Deonarine performs “Glitter and Be Gay” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” and soprano Marina Harris sings several arias including the famed “Un bel di vedremo” from “Madame Butterfly.” Zeffin Quin Hollis, who won the Zachary Society competition a decade ago, performs “Si puo?,” the prologue of “I Pagliacci” by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, and “Ò vin dissipe la tristesse” (the drinking song) from Act II, Scene 1 of “Hamlet” by Ambroise Thomas.
With several singers performing a total of 18 pieces of music as opposed to the typical four or five, “Opera at the Shore” “requires a lot more rehearsal and maneuvering, and every singer does it a different way,” Fetta said.
Still, Fetta aims to keep the music accessible: “I want people to know that opera is also sung in English,” he said.
“This concert is sure to be a treat for opera fans old and new,” said Harris, a former Westsider making a return appearance. She also sings Rusalka’s “Song to the Moon,” from a Czech opera by Dvorak based on “The Little Mermaid,” which she called “sublime music, rich and gorgeous; one of the pieces that made me want to become a singer.”
Hollis, who also duets with Deonarine on “Las Traviata,” looks forward to reuniting with Maestro Fetta.
“We have done “La Bohème” and “La Traviata” at the Redlands Bowl Opera and many concerts and recitals together,” the baritone said.
On July 24, Fetta welcomes William Hagen, a 22-year-old violin virtuoso with whom he collaborated on the Mendelssohn violin concerto at the Redlands Bowl. Hagen will perform the Tchaikovsky violin concerto at Marina del Rey.
“His playing is spot-on. It’s exciting and it’s elegant,” Fetta said.
On Aug.7, he welcomes pianist Yana Reznik, a versatile musician whose innovative and captivating performances strive to make classical music relevant to a wider range of contemporary audiences. Reznik has packed Carnegie Hall and shared the stage with the L.A. Phil, but she’s also performed with Carrie Underwood during the American Country Music Awards and was a featured musical guest on “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”
“She’s a powerful pianist and person but she’s gorgeous,” Fetta said of Reznik, with whom he will explore the movie music theme.
The program pays homage to Hollywood with pieces such as Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” as featured in the opening of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” the sequel to “Fantasia,” and most recently, in the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring “The Great Gatsby.”
“The orchestra part for that is fantastic,” Fetta said.
Returning to DiCaprio, music from James Cameron’s “Titanic” will surface on the bill, as well as “The Wizard of Oz” standard “Over the Rainbow” and “a chunk of ‘Star Wars,’” Fetta said.
Less obvious choices include the Richard Addinsell-composed “Warsaw Concerto” from the British movie “Dangerous Squadron.”
“The producers asked Rachmaninoff if they could use his ‘Full Moon and Empty Arms’ [featured in Billy Wilder’s “The Seven Year Itch” and Clint Eastwood’s “The Hereafter”] but he demanded too much money,” Fetta said.
With Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars” celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, this summer could have been the opportunity to interpret Ennio Morricone’s classic Spaghetti Western compositions, but obtaining permissions for that music is also difficult, he said.
While one might think getting the rights to play John Williams’ “Star Wars” score would also be tricky, Fetta said getting clearances to perform Williams’ themes such as “Superman,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” is actually a lot easier than going through the estates of Gershwin or Bernard Herrmann or navigating European publishers for the Morricone material.
Through a friendship with movie composer Craig Safan, the symphony will also perform Safan’s overture from the 1985 action/adventure film “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.”
When Fetta is not leading the Summer Symphony, he conducts myriad orchestras and engagements, including the Redlands Bowl (since 1985), San Bernardino Symphony at California Theatre, Culver City Symphony and, closer to his Eagle Rock home, Pasadena Symphony.
But with Marina del Rey’s free summer waterbus service, there’s something special about the experience at Chace Park, he said.
“The ambiance of having a boat bring you to the concert —there’s no place else in town that does that.”
“Symphonic Thursdays” concerts begin at 7 p.m. at Burton Chace Park, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. Call (310) 305-9595 or visit chacepark.com.