Riva Opera 85

Having already established a grand style of motoryacht, Riva ups the stakes in this late-modern classic.

A visit to the opera conjures glamour, glittering people, majestic stage sets and awe-inspiring performances by larger than life characters. To call a boat "Opera" might seem a dangerous case of overreaching, unless it is done by another name synonymous with theatrical magic. Then it all makes sense-if that name is Riva.

It takes many skills just to get the design and construction of a yacht right; when you aim to be at the pinnacle of yacht design, then you need to stage quite a production. That's the Riva ambition-to always be on top of the pile, the best in the motoryacht world. To reach this level is worthy of acclaim, but staying there is the real achievement. With the tremendous advances in yacht design over the past ten years, staying at the top gets harder and harder; just when you think you have achieved success, along comes another yacht builder to challenge your position.

But this new design from Riva shows that they can still go one better than the others. Starting from a niche market of building its classic wooden runabouts, Riva has built on this tradition with a judicious outpouring of late-modern classics. The yard moved into large motoryacht design some ten years ago as part of the revival of the fortunes of this most famous name in yacht building. With this new range of motoryachts they managed to maintain the magic of Riva, partly by clever design, partly by the use of exotic materials, but mainly by sticking to the accepted principals of good straightforward yacht design. While rivals went for the quick design fix, trying to gain appeal by shock tactics, Riva stayed with what they knew best and still worked wonders. Similarly, Riva already had established a grand style of motoryacht with the Opera 80, and now has stretched the design to 85 feet. From the outside the look is an extension of what they have already done but the inside is absolutely different, and entirely stunning. As you step on board this motoryacht you get a sense of theater. You can almost inhale the quality and you can certainly see it in the detailing as well as in the overall impact.

But you have to step through the saloon doors and there you see the Riva quality in all its glory. Before you do, though, you might well ask how they manage to go beyond the norm, when the expectations for Riva are so high. The answer is Canaletto Walnut. An Italian straight-grained version of the walnut with the twisted grain that was widely used for antique furniture, on the Opera Canaletto is stained to an almost chocolate brown and this makes the perfect paneling backdrop for the leather and fabric interior. Leather is the other unusual feature of the interior styling. Rich, brown and lustrous, it is used for paneling on the furniture, for the low coffee table and for detailing.

In terms of layout, the Opera follows convention with separate lounge and dining areas on the main deck. The galley is tucked in behind the wheelhouse; the outside door to the galley allows crew access to both of these working areas without disturbing guests. The galley may look "tucked in" but it is still a good size and well equipped for comprehensive meal preparation. On the version tested, the galley was fully enclosed in European style, but it has been designed so that the panel facing the dining room can be opened up to create a serving counter.

The eight-seat dining table is angled across the room in a space-saving arrangement that leaves room for the day head just behind the pilothouse. On the port side, inside stairs lead up to the flying bridge. You have the option of closing off the dining area from the lounge by means of a wood-slatted Venetian blind. In the lower lounge section everything is squared off in an arrangement that is very smart.

Belowdecks there is the option of a three- or four-stateroom layout; when the fourth cabin is not specified, it is replaced by an office. Quality fabrics offer a contrast in the saloon, but there is greater use of fabric down here to create a softer and lighter look. The beautiful blending of the contrasting textures of wood, leather and fabric orchestrates a rich and restful effect.

The master stateroom has a full-width bathroom across the aft end with a shower cubicle in the center, a bath and washbasin on one side and the head on the other. An eminently practical arrangement becomes stunningly beautiful with wood paneling and marble floors and tops. I think I might spend most of my time on board lying in the bath helpless with admiration. In fact, admiration is a word that comes to mind often on board the Riva, particularly in the way they have raised the game with the interior.

In terms of styling the exterior follows fast motoryacht convention with its rising curves leading up to the flying bridge. There are not too many options here but it is the rich Riva cream finish that fairly oozes luxury. By matching this unique cream coloring with raw teak on the bulwark capping and touches of navy blue trim, Riva achieves their unique house style.

Of course, it would not be a Riva without teak. When you step on board you are surrounded with it, on the decks, the bulwarks and even the large cockpit table. Riva manages a unique richness to its raw teak, a richness that welcomes and embraces you.

There is more teak on the flying bridge (does Riva own shares in a rain forest?). The layout up here is almost circular, the settees and the bar (with barbecue) sweeping round the helm and an adjacent sun bed in the forward section. An arch mast provides the mounting points for the antenna and also houses the bimini that extends out under power to provide shelter over most of the flying bridge. At the aft end of the flying bridge there is stowage for a jet ski and a launching crane; main tender stowage is a garage built into the transom which-rare caveat-eats into the crew space aft where there are two twin bunk cabins.

Amid such glories it seems mingy to find fault, but I must admit to feeling less than ecstatic about some of the practical features, such as the wide windscreen pillars and the double seat at the helm that is really only suitable for one person. This seat also virtually blocks access to the adjacent outside door. However, the helm layout itself was fine, and I did like the levers for trim tab control rather than the normal hard-to-find switches.

For machinery this yacht has a pair of MTU diesels, V-12 engines from the 2,000 range. These work through V-drive gearboxes, which keep the engine installation well aft. The 4,000 hp gives this heavy yacht a very agile performance, the speed building up to a respectable 33 knots in the right conditions.

The mechanics of singing an aria are a matter of matching brute force with exquisite technique. A perfect example was had when I ran this particular Opera 85 down the beautiful Riviera coastline of Italy in difficult sea conditions; she rose to the occasion, performing as well as she looked. If I had any kind of a voice, I would have joined in.

Contact: Riva S.p.A., (011) 39 035910202; www.riva-yacht.com.