The Story of the Festival

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, mezzo soprano 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 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.

We were off! And we have been singing ever since. Here are the highlights:

 

2011    

Four days, 22 events, 4000 attendees
Mozart’s Don Giovanni: conductor Steven White, with Barry Banks, Louis Otey and Morris Robinson.
Voices of Distinction with Lauren Flanigan Rozz Morehead, Simon Shaheen

 

2012

Four days, 22 events, 5000 attendees
Puccini’s Madame Butterfly with Yunah Lee and Richard Troxell
Voices of Distinction: Broadway, featuring local talent Lucia Legnini
12 Months, concerto for piano and choir by Peter Schickele, narrated by Schickele with pianist Justin Kolb and singer Barry Banks
Lieder concert by Banks

 

2013

Four days, 23 events, 5000 attendees
New stage able to accommodate 150 performers at once
Voices of Distinction: Wagner Bicentennial with Jeanne Michele Charbonet, Victoria Livengood, Alfred Walker, Eduardo Villa
Cantorial concert by Cantor Jack Mendelson
Verdi’s Rigoletto conducted by Steven White with Barry Banks, Nancy Allen Lundy, Bradley Smoak, and Louis Otey
Verdi's Requiem, Phoenicia Festival Orchestra conducted by David Wroe, with Rosa D’Imperio, Maria Todaro, Stephan Kirchgraber,  Eduardo Villa, more than 120 choristers
Terrence McNally’s Master Class with Irene Glezos
Public vocal workshop, lectures, youth education program

 

2014

Five days, 27 events, 5500 attendees
Voices of Distinction: Baroque with Brian Asawa, Christine Gunmere, and Sinfornia New York
Italian tenor Jose Todaro with the Festival chorus singing Mediterranean favorites
Premiere: Frederic Chaslin's Clarimonde featuring Alyson Cambridge
Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia with Lucas Meachem,  Kevin Glavin, Maria Todaro, Festival orchestra conducted by David Wroe
Zarzuela with Camille Zamora and Alberto Ramirez
Misa Criolla with the festival chorus, Alturas Ensemble conducted by Jorge Parodi
Flamenco extravaganza, Art of the Cantor featuring Jacob Mendelson and family
Tales of the Rainbow Forest, acting master class conducted by Anthony Laciura

 

2015

Five days, 32 events, 5500 attendees
Voices of Distinction: Red, White and Blue! with pianist Justin Kolb and the Festival Orchestra performing Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue plus jazz artists Jack DeJohnette and Sheila Jordan
Stephen Temperley's play, Souvenir, about Florence Foster-Jenkins with Georgia Osborne and Robert Stillman
Menotti's The Medium with Victoria Livengood and pianist/conductor David Mayfield
Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music with Ron Raines, Susan Powell, Rosalind Elias, directed by Marc Astafan and conducted by Gerald Steichen
American Classics: Live and in Person with Lauren Flanigan accompanied by composer Ricky Ian Gordon
Down to the Roots, a celebration of Native American music
World premiere of Do Not Go Gentle: The Last Days of Dylan and Caitlin by Robert Manno with Philip Cutlip, Emily Pulley and John EasterlinCarlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men  

 

2016

Four days, 21 events, 5500 attendees
Rock the Beatles with Paul Green's Rock Academy
Kiss Me Kate with Susan Powell, Richard White, Anthony Laciura , choreographed by Becky Timms, directed by Lee Roy Reems, conducted by Gerald Steichen
Verdi's Otello with conductor David Wroe, stage director Beth Greenberg, Chorus Master David Mayfield, Limmie Pulliam, Eleni Calenos, Daniel Sutin, Aaron Blake, Bradley Smoak, Lindsay Ammann, FofV Chorus and Orchestra
Celtic Celebration with Joy Dunlop, Noeleen Ni Cholla, Doimnic Mac Golla Bhride, and Ann Crann Og
Shakespeare Heroines, music by Thomas Pasatieri, with Lauren Flanigan
All of Shakespeare in 90 Minutes by Brandon Aja
Carey Harrison and Justin Kolb