In the classical music world, opera singers used to be scorned for performing in other genres. “If you had recorded CD’s in the rock industry, you changed your name, and you didn’t put it in your resume,” said Maria Todaro, opera singer and co-founder of the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice. “Now if you have vast experience in rock or on Broadway, you claim it.”
Todaro, enthusiastic about the potential inherent in crossover, has become a teacher of vocal music at the Paul Green Rock Academy in Woodstock. Students from the academy will open this year’s British-themed Voicefest with a performance of songs by the Beatles from their psychedelic period.
“Classical training informs your end product,” commented Green. “People can end up in very different places from where they were heading in this muddled music landscape. You have great rock musicians scoring movies, and some of my favorite rock musicians started out in classical.”
Green and Todaro met three years ago when they were both on the board of the short-lived Byrdcliffe Festival of the Arts. “We hit it off,” said Green, “because we both take music seriously, but we try not to take ourselves too seriously. Maria and I were having fun, and thought we’d like to work on something together.”
The school has two other vocal instructors, in the area of blues and rock and in the folk and Americana choral tradition. “Between the three,” said Green, “every one of our students can expect to see every one of these approaches. They all talk about singing from the diaphragm and the importance of ear training and improvisation. We think Maria’s joy for teaching is even more important than her approach.”
Students will also benefit from the chance to appear at the festival. “My entire program is dependent on having good gigs,” said Green. “To have good music, you need good end points. Maria has given us a real gift by giving us this great opportunity to perform.”
“You are giving us a great gift too,” Todaro responded, “building audiences of the future, giving kids education to keep them off the street, giving them motivation. Even if they don’t do music as a profession, they will use what they’re learning all their life.” She praised Green for having his students also work backstage to learn the nuts and bolts of presenting a performance, an aspect of the training that will be expanded by the festival appearance.
Given the theme of this year’s festival, which revolves around Shakespeare and music of the British Isles, Green said, “It was obvious the Beatles were the perfect thing to bring. My music director, Jason Bowman, had just directed a Beatles show and taken on the tougher vocal arrangements of their psychedelic period. He did arrangements of songs the Beatles had never played live, going deeper into that material. I’ll be directing the band, Maria will work with individual students, and Jason will direct the vocals.”
Based on her first two weeks of teaching at the school, said Todaro, “The kids are amazing. They’re confident. They feel like the school is a safe place where they can be themselves and meet with a family every day. Paul is a big kid — they love him, and he loves them.”
British-themed Voicefest will feature 100 voices in Otello chorus
Co-founder of the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, opera singer Maria Todaro, and has just announced the highlights of this year’s festival, which will be held August 4 through 7 at Phoenicia’s Parish Field and other venues around the hamlet. The main event will be Otello, Verdi’s opera based on Shakespeare’s Othello. The opera requires a substantial choir, for which Todaro will be auditioning singers on March 8 in Woodstock — see the highlighted box for details.
“The chorus of Otello truly operates as a main ‘character’ in the opera,” said Todaro. “It’s the first voice heard after the thundering opening chord. Throughout the opera, serving variously as ‘the people,’ it helps frame the drama. We are committed to creating a chorus of 100 comprising, to the greatest extent possible, our area’s finest singers.”
Local choirs— the Phoenicia and Woodstock Community Choirs, Kairos, Ars Choralis, the Vassar College Choir — are each sending five or six of their top singers, but more are needed. Todaro explained, “It’s an eight-part chorus, and there are over 60 musicians in the orchestra, so we need substantial voices in each register. If you have a great voice, but you don’t read music, we will teach you, as long as you’re committed and willing to work hard. It’s very powerful music. We want the audience to have an emotional experience when they hear those voices, and we want the choir to have an emotional experience too.”
Otello will be presented on the evening of Saturday, August 6, and will star rising tenor phenomenon Limmie Pulliam in the title role and Eleni Calenos as Desdemona. Chorus master will be David Mayfield, and the opera will be conducted by David Wroe.
This year’s festival also includes a performance of Kiss Me Kate, Cole Porter’s musical based on Taming of the Shrew. The play will star acclaimed soprano and former Miss America Susan Powell, along with her husband, Richard White, star of New York City Opera and Broadway as well as the voice of Gaston in the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. They will be directed by Broadway veteran Lee Roy Reams.
American operatic soprano Lauren Flanigan returns with three new works by Thomas Pasatieri based on Shakespeare’s leading ladies, Desdemona, Juliet, and Lady McBeth. Local youth theater New Genesis Productions will perform Muse of Fire, a 90-minute, fast-paced romp through Shakespeare’s plays and themes.
Veteran Shakespearean actor and director Carey Harrison and concert pianist Justin Kolb will perform a stylized interpretation for piano and spoken word of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epoch narrative poem “Enoch Arden.” Harrison will also lead a talk entitled “Hamlet Once and For All.” The festival will conclude on Sunday with a Celtic Celebration featuring a roster of artists direct from Ireland.
Tickets are available for the 2016 Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, with a 10% discount offered through May 1. The festival will be held August 4-7 in Phoenicia. Purchase tickets online at https://phoeniciavoicefest.com. For additional information, call 845-586-3588.