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'Paganini' ballet resurrected at Festival del Sole

  • Dimitri Rostoff and Alexandra Denisova in the original 1939 production of the Rachmaninoff ballet “Paganini.” (Arts Centre Melbourne)

It's a story worthy of the Travel Channel's "Mysteries at the Museum."

One of the world's greatest composers (Sergei Rachmaninoff) teams up with one of the world's greatest choreographers (Michel Fokine) to create a ballet based on the legend of the diabolically talented violinist, Niccolo Paganini.

Set to Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," the "Paganini" ballet was premiered in 1939 in London by the legendary Ballets Russes, then sank from sight after World War II broke out and the troupe was scattered to the four winds.

Now, more than 70 years later, a portion of that original ballet has been resurrected and will be presented by the Napa Valley Festival del Sole as part of its Dance Gala on July 19.

The performance, featuring members of Ballet San Jose with special guests from American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, will include a suite from the one-act, 35-minute "Paganini," among other ballets.

"This year we're just giving a glimpse," said Sharon Swim Wing, the driving force behind the "Paganini" project. "The full ballet will be performed next year."

Festival del Sole will also present a recital of Rachmaninoff's works for piano, cello and soprano on July 17 at Opus One winery, as a gala celebration of the 140th anniversary of his birth.

Wing was living in Moscow with her husband during in the early '80s and again in the early '90s, when she found herself drawn to the story of Rachmaninoff's life.

"I always had a passion for history and classical music," she said. "I wanted to know the man and the times."

She was inspired to start her research after witnessing how Moscow honored composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky on the anniversary of his birth. In her mind, Rachmaninoff deserved the same kind of recognition.

"Rachmaninoff had been neglected," she said. "He was often written off as a Romantic movie score composer, which was so far from the truth."

Although the composer was considered to be quite dour and introverted, Wing discovered that he was really a kind and generous soul.

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