Every penny helps

Louis Otey and Maria Todaro (photo by Dion Ogust)

Louis Otey and Maria Todaro (photo by Dion Ogust)

“It’s a chance to listen to international stars in a rustic, picturesque setting — without having to pay hundreds of dollars,” said Louis Otey, co-founder and co-director of the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice with his wife, Maria Todaro.

The Phoenicia festival’s 2013 program will observe the bicentennials of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi, while also featuring its usual wide-ranging mix of world music, theater, jazz, gospel, Gregorian chant, prose reading, and more. The fourth annual festival will take place August 1-4 on an outdoor stage on Phoenicia’s parish field and at other venues around the town.

The third member of the Phoenicia-based founding group, baritone Kerry Henderson, has withdrawn to focus on his new company, LiederWorks, reviving the art of the classical song recital.


Other changes this year include a bigger stage and bandshell, plus a 42-piece Festival of the Voice orchestra. A campaign on Kickstarter.com has been launched to come up with the funds to pay top-notch players, many of them drawn from the Westfield Symphony Orchestra of New Jersey. Todaro sang the role of Carmen last year with the Westfield Symphony under the direction of David Wroe, who is helping to assemble the festival orchestra.

Garry Kvistad, founder of Woodstock Chimes and director of the Drum Boogie Festival, will be participating on percussion, along with his brother, timpanist Richard Kvistad of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Garry Kvistaad has performed extensively with Steve Reich and is a member of the Nexus percussion ensemble.

The Saturday-night opera will be Verdi’s Rigoletto, starring soprano Nancy Allen Lundy, who has been performing at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The title role will be sung by Otey, recently returned from an operatic gig in Copenhagen. Another leading role goes to Barry Banks, an English tenor who has sung with the Metropolitan Opera, the Welsh National Opera and many other companies worldwide. The festival orchestra will be conducted by Steven White of the Metropolitan Opera.

Another Verdi masterpiece, the choral Requiem, will close the festival on Sunday, with 120 singers from local choirs and professional soloists. Wroe will conduct.

To compensate for Wagner’s anti-Semitic reputation, a program entitled “The Art of the Cantor” has been scheduled for Friday afternoon, when female cantors will explore the richness of Hebrew liturgy. The evening performance will be the festival’s “Voices of Distinction,” in which up-and-coming opera stars mingle with seasoned performers, presenting vocal works by Wagner.

Actor and writer Carey Harrison, with lively musical accompaniment by pianist Justin Kolb, will read from personal journals and letters exchanged among Verdi, Wagner and Liszt.

Theatrical director Shauna Kanter presents Master Class, a play about the great soprano Maria Callas, at the STS Playhouse. Festival attendees will also have the chance to watch a master class of young professionals, led by dramaturg Cori Ellison, providing insights into the construction of an opera scene.

Among the Saturday events is a performance by The Spirit of Sepharad, an ensemble that includes a vocalist, a flamenco dancer, and musicians playing oud, saz, guitar, violin, and other instruments. They trace the migration of Sephardic music from medieval Spain across North Africa, to the Middle East, and beyond, uniting many cultures.

Other festival features include an opening-night celebration of gospel music; the Cambridge Singers, returning to the festival with their renditions of Gregorian and Medieval music; Ensemble Pi, performing the work of living and undiscovered composers, under the artistic direction of pianist Idith Meshulam; music for kids by Story Laurie; and late-night Latino jazz and bossa-nova mix by Abacaxi at the Sportsmen’s Bar.

Otey and Todaro are giving fundraising performances for the next several weekends in Albany, New York City, Garrison and Rhinebeck, mostly at the homes of affluent music lovers whose donations will go a long way to supporting the festival. “It’s a courtship,” explained Todaro, referring both to private donors and to granting agencies. A festival is not eligible for grants until it has three years under its belt, so this year the grant applications have been going out. Results are awaited.

The couple are also giving a performance for the Phoenicia Business Association — not to seek donations but to share with the business owners what they’re up to. Many local shopkeepers have to mind the store all summer and can’t make it to the festival performances, so a private concert is a good chance to hear the music. “It’s important for us to connect with the businesses,” said Todaro. “We’re building a crowd that’s sensitive to what we’re doing.”

While the big bucks are greatly to be desired, fundraising is aimed at every level of the festival audience. “Every penny helps,” Todaro said. “Even a dollar, multiplied by thousands of people, helps. The director of development of the New York City Opera told us not to neglect small donations. All those little donations make things go.”

The Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice will be held August 1-4 in the hamlet of Phoenicia.