Imagine being magically transported to Italy's idyllic Tuscany for a 10-day vacation filled with sunshine, world-class music, fine art, drama, dance, gourmet food and wine, with a few physical fitness lectures and activities slipped in to balance out all the sensory indulgence.

All of the above, sans the expensive airfare across the Atlantic, is available by merely driving a few miles to the beautiful Napa Valley for its eighth annual Festival del Sole. Scheduled from July 12 through July 22, the event beckons great musicians, superstars and a lot of A-list patrons as well as us ordinary folk to bask in the joys of high culture close to home.

Festival del SoleFrench pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet will make two appearances at the Napa Valley’s Festival del Sole, playing the
Festival del Sole French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet will make two appearances at the Napa Valley's Festival del Sole, playing the "Egyptian" Piano Concerto by Camille Saint-Saens. ( Festival del Sole )

The musical magic begins with an opening night concert at 5:30 p.m. on July 12 featuring the glamorous, golden-voiced Audra McDonald, one of America's premier musical theater stars and winner of five Tony Awards. The venue, Napa Valley's romantic Tuscan-inspired, Renaissance-style Castello di Amorosa, 4045 St. Helena Highway, in Calistoga, has its own special cachet. While individual tickets are sold out, seating may be available for holders of VIP or Allegro Passes. Call the festival concierge at 707-944-9410 or email concierge@festivaldelsole.org for more information.


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A particularly thrilling concert is scheduled at 5 p.m. the next night, July 13, at the Lincoln Theater, 100 California Drive, in Yountville. Featured artist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, one of the world's handsomest and most exciting pianists will play Camille Saint-Saens' rarely performed "Egyptian" Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Russian National Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Montanaro. Sergei Rachmaninoff's glorious Symphony No. 2 and Dmitri Shostakovich's Op. 96 "Festive Overture" complete the program.

Another orchestral concert at the Lincoln Theater at 1:30 p.m. July 14 features the Orchestra Institute Napa Valley. Comprising some 90 conservatory musicians from across the United States, the ensemble will perform a free program of classical works, including Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" and other works appropriate for families. Martin West and Peter Jacobson will conduct.

Dans le Style Rococo, scheduled for 11 a.m. July 15 at the Grgich Hills Estate, 1829 St. Helena Highway in Rutherford, will take patrons back to Baroque times. Les Violettes -- David Wilson, violin; Corey Carleton, voice; Colin Shipman, viola da gamba; and Violet Grgich, harpsichord -- will perform music by Rameau, Bousset, and Clerambault. Tickets are $25.

The 6:30 p.m. July 16 concert will be at the beautiful new Weill Hall, located in the Green Music Center on the Sonoma State University campus, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., in Rohnert Park. The concert will reprise pianist Thibaudet and the RNO performances of the Saint-Saens' "Egyptian" Piano Concerto No. 5 and Shostakovich's "Festive Overture." Charismatic violinist Sarah Chang will augment the program by performing Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, as Montanaro conducts.

Individual tickets for this event are being handled by the Green Music Center. Call 816-955-6040 or email greenmusiccenter@sonoma.edu.

Tickets for VIP Pass holders may be arranged by the festival concierge at 707-944-9410 or online at concierge@festivaldelsole.org.

Chang will also perform an intimate solo concert, accompanied by pianist Andrew von Oeyen, at 6:30 p.m. July 18 in the courtyard of the Castello di Amorosa. Featured works will be Brahms' "Sonatensatz" and his Sonata No. 3 in D minor, as well as Prokofiev's Sonata No. 2 in D major.

Individual tickets for this concert are sold out, but seating is still available with purchase of a VIP Evening Pass or a full day VIP Pass. Call 888-337-6272 or email concierge@festivaldelsole.org.

The first modern-day glimpses of a re-creation of Michel Fokine's choreography of Rachmaninoff's lost ballet, "Paganini," as well as musical ballet selections by Tchaikovsky, Adam, Dvorak, Massenet and others will be given by principal dancers from the San Francisco Ballet and Ballet San Jose companies, accompanied by the RNO under the baton of George Daugherty, at 6 p.m. July 19 at Yountville's Lincoln Theater. Tickets range from $45 to $75.

The festival's grand finale will be an Opera Gala featuring Ekaterina Scherbachenko, the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World winner, and bass Raymond Aceto singing excerpts from Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," accompanied by Montanaro and the Russian National Orchestra at 5 p.m. July 21 at the Lincoln Theater. Tickets range from $45 to $75.

Contact Cheryl North at cherylnorth@hotmail.com.