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A Shining (Somewhat Shorter) Season at MC

By Dateline Staff on June 30, 2020 in Society, Arts & Culture

The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts has announced its 2020-21 season: a truncated version scheduled to begin in January when management hopes the center can reopen.

Male and female in law enforcement uniforms, on stage.
Heartbeat Opera: A modern take on Beethoven’s “Fidelio.” (Courtesy)

The new presenting program, despite being only about 70 percent of a normal season, looks to be another great one. Highlights include:

  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presenting two performances of Ailey’s landmark work Revelations.
  • Orpheus Chamber Ensemble with Branford Marsalis.
  • SFJAZZ Collective, playing Joni Mitchell songs
  • Celebrate Beethoven, in the 250th anniversary year of the composer's birth, features the pianist Christopher Taylor, performing all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies in four concerts; and Heartbeat Opera, performing Beethoven’s Fidelio in a modern-day adaptation.
  • Spiritrials, a performance piece by UC Davis alumnus Dahlak Brathwaite.
  • Ira Glass and Rob Reiner in the Speakers Series.

Staff, faculty and staff have a head start this week on purchasing new subscriptions, before they go on sale to the general public next week. Staff and faculty save 25 percent on all presenting program subscriptions. Students get half off all single ticket prices.

See At a Glance below for information on purchasing and renewing subscriptions.

The 2019-20 season came to an early close in March, due to the pandemic. For the new season, the Mondavi Center took a schedule that had been three years in the making and spent three months rearranging it.

“While we won’t gather in the Mondavi Center until next January, our new season is extremely rich,” Don Roth, the executive director, wrote in the season brochure’s introduction. “We’ll come together to celebrate great classical composers like Beethoven and Mozart, alongside heroes of our own time like Joni Mitchell. Artist friends like the Alvin Ailey dance company and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will once again be in the house. And we will introduce you to newcomers like the exciting singer Nella, who won last year’s Latin Grammy for best new artist.”

Criminal justice focus

Dahlak Brathwaite on stage.
“Spiritrials:” UC Davis alumnus Dahlak Brathwaite in his performance piece. (Courtesy)

Two shows in the new season deal with the criminal justice system, and both earn Roth’s nod as Director’s Choices:

  • Spiritrials — Addiction, religion and the law intersect in a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program, in this one-man show written, scored and performed by Brathwaite, offering what his website describes as “a timely exploration of the American criminal justice system.” The multidimensional play blurs the line between hip-hop and dramatic performance as Brathwaite “weaves through the autobiographical and the fictional, music and monologue, to examine his place in what appears to be a cultural rite of passage as a young Black male.” He graduated from UC Davis with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2008, as an English major with a minor in dramatic art.
  • Heartbeat Opera’s Fidelio — Founded in 2014, this New York City-based company is breaking down traditional barriers to reimagine opera for artists and audiences of the 21st century. In this adaptation of the Beethoven work, a Black activist is wrongfully incarcerated, and his wife, Leah, in disguise, infiltrates the system to free him, according to the company’s website. But when injustice reigns, one woman’s grit may not be enough to save her love. The opera has a live cast of five singers and seven musicians, plus a prerecorded virtual chorus comprising more than 100 inmates in six U.S. prison choirs and more than 70 volunteers who sing with the inmates. Learn more about the virtual chorus.

Spiritrials and Fidelio are add-on events (to be added to series subscriptions) or can be built into choose-your-own, or CYO, subscriptions.

Other series highlights

Woman stands next to piano.
The Concert Series includes a performance by Beatrice Rana, in a Director’s Choice event. (Courtesy)
  • Orchestra — Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, performing works by Prokoflev, Greig and Tchaikovsky.
  • Concert — Beatrice Rana, piano, performing works by Scriabin, Ravel and Chopin.
  • Studio Jazz — Connie Han Trio, and Sammy Miller and the Congregation.
  • With a Twist — The Queen’s Cartoonists (“virtuosic musicianship, multi-instrumental mayhem and comedy”) and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
  • Dance — Red Sky Performance (Trace) and Delfos Danza Contemporanea (Cuando los Disfraces se Cuelgan).
  • American Heritage — Arlo Guthrie, songwriter, singer, storyteller.
  • World Stage — Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández and Las Cafeteras.
  • Speakers — Ellen Forney, author of the 2020-21 Campus Community Book Project (Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me).
  • Alexander String Quartet — Three performance dates (two concerts, same program, matinee and evening each day), all Mozart.

More add-on/CYO choices

Cabaret singer
VST Cabaret: Meow Meow, a Director’s Choice program. (Courtesy)
  • Visions — Fry Street Quartet: Rising Tide, “an evocative performance that combines music, information and imagery, merging the intellectual with the visceral to take audiences from understanding to action.” Presented in collaboration with the UC Davis SHAPE course Envisioning Climate Futures. SHAPE stands for Science, Humanities and Arts: Process and Engagement.
  • Curtis on Tour — This year’s tour features Schubert’s masterful quintets for two violins, viola and two cellos.
  • VST Cabaret — Meow Meow (“careening from French chanson to Radiohead, with brilliant dashes of Brecht and Weill in between, she’s a remarkable singer and physical comedian who hypnotizes, inspires and terrorizes her audiences with ease”).
  • Family — Sonia de los Santos and The Okee Dokee brothers (Somos Amigos: Songs on Common Ground).
  • Holidays — The Irish quintet Goitse (go-wit-cha) performs Feb. 26, well within the St. Patrick’s Day celebration range.

Safety first

Rob Tocalino, marketing director for the Mondavi Center, said: “We will take extreme caution in reopening, with the audience's health our top priority. We are actively developing plans for how the hall would and could be used; we're consulting with campus and our industry colleagues on best practices.”

And, if the public health situation does not allow a return to the hall in January, “then we'll do what we did at the end of this season, namely roll out cancellations and issue refunds or credits,” he said.


  • WHAT: 2020-21 season at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. The season brochure is online.
  • WHEN: The season as announced starts in January, but some unique events are in the works for fall, to tide people over until January.
  • SUBSCRIPTION RENEWALS: Maintain seating priority by renewing by July 13.
  • NEW SUBSCRIPTIONS: Staff, faculty and students have a head start, from now until 1 p.m. Monday (July 6), when members of the general public can start purchasing new subscriptions.

The ticket office is operating remotely. You can reach the staff by email, or you can call:

  • Online support 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday — 530-746-8094
  • General information 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday — 530-285-0992

Tickets for individual events will go on sale at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10. Staff and faculty save 10 percent on single tickets.

Frequently asked questions about the 2020-21 season.

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About the author(s)

Dateline Staff Dave Jones, editor, can be reached at 530-752-6556 or Cody Kitaura, news and media relations specialist, can be reached at 530-752-1932 or