Now in its lucky 13th year, the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice returns to its home turf this weekend, August 5 to August 7, following a rocky couple of years when organizers had to rack their brains to come up with innovative presenting strategies ensuring that the show would indeed go on. A literal drive-in production of Tosca at Tech City in Kingston —performed live, but with the audience sitting in parked cars — was the solution for the summer of 2020, when COVID was at its lethal peak. It was the first drive-in opera ever in the U.S. and only the second in the world.
According to founder/director Maria Todaro, 2021 started out looking like it might be the same story, but it also seemed like a rare opportunity to bring in some high-level performers who weren’t able to get work in the City. “When we were planning it in April and May, all the theaters were closed. So, we invited the New York City Opera and Teatro Grattacielo, thinking we’d give the artists an opportunity to work and let them keep all the proceeds. By June, things were opening up, so we shifted the entire machine back to Phoenicia. It was a crazy move. But the experience was so wonderful that they decided to come back this year!”
Teatro Grattacielo performs Don Giovanni on the Festival’s outdoor stage on Saint Ursula Place in Phoenicia on opening night, Friday, August 5 at 8:30 p.m. David Bloom conducts and Stefanos Koroneos directs a vocal cast including Rick Agster, Christiana, Joe Lodato, Clara Luz Iranzo, Eric McKeever, Samuel Ng, Alexandra Razskazoff and Madison Zahorsky, accompanied by young artists from the Camerata Bardi Vocal Academy.
With sets and costume designs by Tasos Protopsaltou and art by Lolita Valdeerrama Savage, the production celebrates 1990s Spanish-style kitsch, with design nods to cinematographer Pedro Almodóvar and Cuban bolero singer La Lupe — not to mention a definite LGBTQ-subculture vibe, says Todaro. Such a treatment of Mozart’s version of the classic tale of a compulsive seducer will provide interesting follow-up for audiences who caught the gender-swapped adaptation of Molière’s Dom Juan that was performed at Bard SummerScape earlier this summer.
On Saturday, August 6 at 8:30 p.m., the New York City Opera returns to Phoenicia with its production of Verdi’s tragic romantic masterpiece La Traviata, with music director/principal conductor Constantine Orbelian at the helm. Michael Capasso directs a stellar cast that includes baritone Michael Chioldi (recently starring in Rigoletto at the Met), soprano Ekaterina Siurina and tenor Charles Castronovo.
The weekend wraps up with a special program combining live performances by soloists Yulan Piao, Ta’u Pupu’a, Kristin Sampson and Matthew Gamble, a full chorus and orchestra with film clips, screened on the Jumbotrons that the Festival acquired during the pandemic to facilitate its socially distanced shows over the last two years. Beginning at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 7, Hollywood in the Hills: Opera in the Movies will continue the Festival’s tradition of making opera more accessible to newbies, younger and less affluent audiences — “debunking the stiffness of opera, the expensiveness and lack of popular appeal,” in Todaro’s words — by paying homage to the vignettes onscreen that served as the introduction to the opera form for so many of us.
Films to be sampled include Philadelphia, The Shawshank Redemption, Pretty Woman and Fatal Attraction; even Bugs Bunny gets his due in The Rabbit of Seville. This family-friendly program was developed in collaboration with the Woodstock Film Festival. David Wroe directs.
While everything is being presented live, with audiences back in lawn-seating mode, Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice 2022 isn’t quite back up to the level of complexity that was offered in years past, when it ran as long as five days. There will be no panels or master classes this year, no workshops or Latte Lectures, no explorations of more esoteric styles of vocal music from around the globe.
“We had to be very prudent financially,” Todaro explains. “Our staff was personally very affected by COVID. We had to do less than we wanted. This is what we could do well and gloriously. We’re hoping next year to return to a full-scale Festival. This year we’re just very happy we’re alive. We’re a small not-for-profit, and lot of them didn’t make it. We’re still the little engine that could.”
Your purchase of a ticket to one or more of this weekend’s performances will help keep this noble enterprise going and growing, and you’ll also get to enjoy some world-class musical entertainment. Prices remain remarkably affordable, beginning at $5 for children under 16. Adult admission ranges from $40 for a single show to $100 for a full weekend pass. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.phoeniciavoicefest.org or call (845) 594-8201.