"More than just a concert, it's an experience," says Maria Todaro, cofounder of the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice (August 4 to 6), about the annual event that brings thousands to the quiet town of Phoenicia for a variety of world-class musical performances.
What originally began as a small outdoor concert by local opera singers Kerry Henderson, Maria Todaro, and Louis Otey to raise money for playground equipment has become a staple of the summer cultural season eight years later. Expected to draw about 6,000 to 7,000 people from all corners of the US and beyond, this year's festival has a distinctly French flavor.
The festival will feature the operatic staple "La Boheme," one of the most popular operas of all time, on the evening of August 5. The opera features Metropolitan Opera singers John Osborn as Rodolfo, Lynette Tapia as Mimi, and Lucas Meachem (who won the 2017 Best Opera Recording Grammy for "Ghosts of Versailles") as Marcello. Local children will also have the chance to perform alongside these stars for part of the show, as part of a children's chorus that has been training since May. The mix of both local and international voices is a symbol of what the festival hopes to feature on a larger level—the powerful and transcendent effect of music.
Other performances will include the music of Jacques Offenbach, best known for his cancan music; the Cambridge Singers, who return with their a cappella stylings to explore the changing nature of the motet in the French Royal Court; and the songs of Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Yves Montand, Charles Aznavour, and Jacques Brel sung by French star Oliver Laurent, known as the Man of 110 Voices for his ability to imitate other singers. A new work, "The Three Musketeers" (which had never been adapted for opera) will also have its world premiere at the festival. The composer who adapted the popular story, Mitchell Bach, is a descendant of Johann Sebastian Bach; the libretto is by Maria Todaro. "Since the age of eight, I have been absolutely passionate about the work of Alexandre Dumas," says Todaro. "I learned everything I know about the 17th century in France from his work, as he is primarily an extraordinary historian. When I met Mitchell Bach in France, we connected deeply, and, given there was no treatment of the novel in an opera, it seemed like the perfect first collaboration."
While keeping with the tradition of closing the festival with choral music, this year the program takes a distinctly American turn with "The Spiritual Side of Duke," which honors jazz legend Duke Ellington combining jazz, classical, and gospel. Led by percussionist John Lumpkin, a septet featuring renowned vocalists Brianna Thomas and Vuyo Sotashe will melodically traverse the spiritual elements of Ellington's work.
Feel like moving around during the festival? There will be "latte" lectures on subjects such as Duke Ellington's gospel influences and a variety of hands-on workshops (such as one on shape note singing) to help festival attendees feel a part of the music and test their own musical pipes.
"Absolutely world-class" is how Todaro describes the upcoming festival in just a few words. "We hope to bring the top talent in the opera world for people to enjoy in the truly beautiful surroundings of Phoenicia."
The Phoenicia Festival of the Voice talks place August 4 to 6 at various locations in Phoenicia. General admission tickets range from $25 to $35. Phoeniciavoicefest.org.