Opera stars shine at Phoenicia's Festival of the Voice

By Jay Braman Jr.
They started showing up this week.

Some came from New York City, others flew in from Texas, Tennessee, and other parts of the nation, all coming to a nondescript office in the center of Phoenicia, where they use their God given instruments to reproduce what has come to be known as “The perfect opera.”
Wisps of the sound travel along Main Street on the hot summer breeze, creating a sense of curiosity, excitement and anticipation for what is in store.

Next week the long-awaited Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice will begin its four-day-long stint in and around the park just off Main Street. When all is said and done, no less than 22 events will have been performed in a variety of venues ranging from the main stage in the park to local churches and the STS Playhouse. Even Mama’s Boy Market, the up and coming local hub across from the Playhouse, gets in on the act with an outdoor concert.

This week Maria Todaro, a co-founder of the festival, took time out from rehearsing that perfect opera (Mozart’s Don Giovanni) to talk about the talent that is coming to town.
“It is amazing that we have these people. They are stars in the opera world and they are coming here to perform. We are so thankful.”

Their names appear on marquees around the globe. Lauren Flanigan, Morris Robinson, Steven White, Todaro says, are household names for opera buffs, and she is quick to point out that while tickets to see such talent usually rise to hundreds of dollars, the Voice Festival has tailored its pricing to encourage all to attend.

“Tickets are only $25 and kids get in free,” she said.

During August 4, 5, 6 and 7, the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice presents top vocal artists of opera, gospel, baroque, cabaret, choral, and world music throughout what Todaro calls “this acoustically superb mountain hamlet.” 

Thursday at 7:30 p.m., gospel diva Rozz Morehead opens the festival. Friday at 7:30 p.m., world-renowned soprano Lauren Flanigan headlines Voices of Distinction, performances by artists on the cutting edge of their operatic careers. Saturday at 7 p.m., Mozart’s Don Giovanni, conducted by Metropolitan Opera maestro Steven White, features the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra and international cast including bass Morris Robinson, soprano Michelle Jennings and tenor Barry Banks. Saturday at 2 p.m., three virtuoso pianists, Justin Kolb, Babette Hierholzer, and Sylvia Buccelli span the keyboard with astounding six-handed agility. Also Mikhail Horowitz and Carey Harrison will join Kolb in a dramatic presentation of Mark Twain’s “War Prayer.” Sunday at 2 p.m., the sensational Palestinian composer and musician, Simon Shaheen, leaps from traditional Arab sounds to jazz and Western classical. At 4 p.m. over 100 voices sing the grand finale, Vivaldi’s “Gloria.”
Children’s events include scenic train rides, and performances by “Uncle Rock” and “Ralph and Ralph.”

Before getting back to rehearsal, Todaro has a role in Don Giovanni, she urges people to understand the casual nature of this unique festival.

“Bring a picnic and sip champagne under-the-stars,” she says.

For tickets call 845 586-3588 or online at phoeniciavoicefest.com.