Festival of the Voice in Phoenicia this weekend

By Jay Braman Jr.
You’ve got to hand it to Phoenicia.
There’s always something going on there to get attention. Whether it’s the hundreds of bright yellow rubber ducks thrown into the stream for a Rotary fund-raiser, or a crowd of bikers getting their pictures taken under Main Street’s most prominent feature, a giant statue of Davy Crockett. “What’s next?”

Enter the first ever Phoenicia Festival of the Voice, a three-day celebration of human sound set for this weekend featuring world class performers co mingled with local talents to provide all sorts of entertainment at venues throughout the hamlet.

But in a community where the sounds of chain saws and motorcycle engines fill the air more often than operatic Arias, one has to wonder how Phoenicia became the stage for such an extravaganza.
The answer is simple: Three world-class opera singers call Phoenicia home.

The centerpiece of the weekend will be a concert version of Verdi’s much loved opera, “Falstaff,” starring baritone Louis Otey (Metropolitan Opera) at 8 p.m. on Saturday. The performance will also feature Kerry Henderson (Australian Opera) and Maria Todaro (Opera de Rio de Janeiro). It will be conducted by Metropolitan Opera maestro, Steven White.

Otey, his wife Todaro and Henderson, all local residents, are the triumvirate of talent that dreamed up the festival. Otey, who recently performed the title role of Falstaff to great acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera, feels Phoenicia is a perfect place for the event.

“Phoenicia is lovely small town that attracts visitors from everywhere,” he told a film crew on a recent tour of the Hamlet. “Hopefully now people will come to see great vocal music. That is what we hope to do here.”
A hasty fund-raiser concert last summer to raise money for local playground equipment suggests people will. Little preparation and a poorly timed rainstorm didn’t stop several hundred from attending that Saturday afternoon at Parish Field, now the location of the main stage for the festival.

Todaro says the success of that fund-raiser was the genesis for an ambitious plan to mount an annual voice festival, modeled after the critically acclaimed Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina.

The festival opens with a concert under the stars performed by Elizabeth Futral, one of the most celebrated and sought after coloratura sopranos in the world today, on Friday at 8 p.m.
Additional programming includes Grammy Award-winning Native American flutist and singer, Joseph FireCrow who, along with Dennis Yerry, jazz and symphonic native flute soloist, will present a concert of native song, woodwind, and percussion. Pianist Justin Kolb will present a very special program that combines pianistic pyrotechnics with outrageous spoken words, in collaboration with actor and local favorite Jay Braman Jr.

At the Shandaken Theatrical Society Playhouse, director Ricarda O’Conner is mounting a special production of the musical revue “Closer Than Ever.”

For children there will be a fun-filled show by the ever-popular “Uncle Rock.”

The three-day festival wraps up with a choral grand finale at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
For complete program scheduling visit: http://www.PhoenciaVoiceFest.com
For tickets call 586-3588.