|When Barbara was working at Chez Panisse in the 1980’s, a colleague of hers – Robert Messick – took us to The San Francisco Opera to see ‘Othello’. In addition to his job at Chez Panisse, Robert was the staff photographer at the Opera, and had access to front row seats. Within the small group of opera lovers at Chez Panisse, these became known as ‘Robert Seats’, and watching an opera from one changed forever the way you looked at music. Not only was the performance enormously alive and vibrant, the ‘Robert Seats’ were next to the conductor, so close in fact that you could watch the active ones perspire. My modest love affair with opera began that night. We just received the schedule for the Fall 2019 opera season, and we wanted to get tickets for a performance of ‘Manon Lescaut’, so I called Robert. He wasn’t available and I left a message. An hour or so later he called back. He apologized for missing my call, but explained he was listening to a live PBS broadcast from the Met of Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Daughter of the Regiment’. ‘I never interrupt an opera for a phone call,’ Robert stated. We talked briefly about ‘Daughter of the Regiment’, as I saw that opera with him ten years ago, and still had some questions about it. Asking Robert a question about opera is a little bit, I suspect, like asking Stan Musial about playing first base. You get a lot of details in the answers. After our post-performance dinner together and Robert’s report on the intricacies of the story, I’ve always been especially interested in ‘Daughter of the Regiment’. It’s an ‘opéra comique’, a form of opera developed by the French in the early 18th century, combining both songs and dialogue. While it has its lighthearted moments — for years it was regarded as ‘simple’ by some — it’s both serious and complex. Donizetti wrote the original score in Italian, but since he was living in Paris at the time of its debut, he agreed to write a second version in French for its premiere. It’s said that Donizetti never felt like he was fully appreciated by the French opera community, so he wrote into the heart of ‘Daughter of the Regiment’ a complicated aria sung by the hero, Tonio. It’s been called the ‘Mt. Everest’ for tenors, as it features nine high C’s sung in rapid succession, a feat that even today can be accomplished by only a handful of the most talented singers. The French tenor performing this inaugural production was frequently off pitch, and given its many other problems, ‘Daughter’ was originally panned by French music critics. French composer Hector Berlioz wrote about the work that ‘Donizetti seems to treat us like a conquered country’. Donizetti, however, seemed more than a little pleased by his operatic ‘nose-thumbing’ to the French court. Today, ‘Daughter of the Regiment’ takes its rightful place as one of great examples of Italian musical genius. Writing opera is obviously difficult, even in one’s native language. Writing one in or for a foreign language is probably even more difficult. Writing an opera and planting in it a political statement of this scale might have seemed impossible – but not for Donizetti. He got his point across.
I listened to Robert retell this story, and I was every bit as fascinated as I was after the San Francisco performance in October 2009. When we hung up this time though, my thoughts drifted off to wine – not surprisingly – and I began to think about our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’, a wine we recently bottled. While on the road earlier this year, a customer tasted the 2017 Chardonnay ‘304’, then remarked to me that making a wine with no oak influence must be ‘a lot simpler’. It’s not, and I wish I had thought of the story behind Donizetti and his remarkable opéra-comique. To make a wine like this, Tadeo first must find grapes that can ripen over a longer stretch of time, in order to keep the natural acidity high and the pH low. Additionally, our Chardonnay ‘304’ relies on soil like that in Chablis which is both rocky and alluvial. This adds a touch of minerality to the wine. The grapes must be completely free of residual sulfur, to avoid the development of any awkward aromas. Properly made, the wine displays a complex aroma of ‘hazelnut’, a component the French call ‘Noisette’. A wine like this might appear ‘simple’ to produce, but like a great opera, it’s not. Our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ is shipping now. We love having it around for the spring, just as the warm weather arrives.
2018 Neyers Vineyards Chardonnay ‘304’ – Please ask your local Trinchero Family Estates representative for availability and pricing information
April 10, 2019