We Began

In the summer of 2009, the hamlet of Phoenicia, New York, found itself short of funds to supply much needed playground equipment to local children. Some residents of the hamlet, who happened to be professional opera singers, had the idea to try to raise some money for the equipment by staging a concert of opera in the Parish Field. So they did.

With other local residents galvanized into a team of volunteers, Maria Todaro and baritone Louis Otey put together an evening’s entertainment they dubbed Opera Under the Stars.

It rained during the day, and a thunderstorm threatened for the evening, but when the equivalent of a curtain went up on the concert, more than 500 intrepid souls were sitting in camp chairs or lying on blankets in the Parish Field of this tiny Catskills municipality—population about 300. When the concert ended, the audience cries of “Encore!” sounded like they came from a thousand throats, and everyone there realized they had just experienced something very powerful indeed.

The singers and two locally-based artists, Justin and Barbara Kolb, began to ponder how to offer their community something more than just a one-off event—how to answer the hunger that Opera Under the Stars had revealed. They met with others in the hamlet, reached out to the wider community, called on friends and supporters, and began planning—and in just six months, the idea of a festival celebrating the human voice in all its multi-faceted glory became a reality.

That first Festival in 2010 offered six events in three days, kicked off by an opening night gala concert featuring world renowned soprano Elizabeth Futral and the Grammy Award winning Native American artist Joseph Firecrow, and culminating in an al fresco performance of Verdi’s final masterpiece, Falstaff.

Since its creation, the festival has welcomed superstars such as Lucas Meachem, John Osborn, Barry Banks, Morris Robinson, Kevin Glavin, Lauren Flanigan, Jacques DeJohnette, Carey Harrison, Ginger Costa-Jackson, Emily Pulley, Lee Roy Reams, Anthony Laciura, Susan Powell, Richard White, Jerry Steichen, Richard Bernstein and Ricky Ian Gordon.  The festival over the years has served thousands and thousands of appreciative music lovers, transformed our region, became a renown cultural destination and having created a strong model of interaction between art and communities, will duplicated its efforts in other regions of the US and in the world.