RAISE your voices and turn up the drama: the Savannah VOICE Festival is back!
The annual celebration of opera and vocal arts is looking forward to record-breaking audiences in 2016. For two weeks, music lovers can take in concerts, social events, showcases, and master classes.
The pillars of this year’s celebration are three unique operas, all in keeping with the theme “A Summer of Romance.”
“Staging three operas, albeit scaled to ‘Savannah size’ is a big undertaking, but we’re sure it will give longtime fans a chance to enjoy more time with their favorite SVF artists, and will allow us to impress first-time patrons with our performers’ versatility and incredible depth,” Maria Zouves, Savannah VOICE Festival co-founder, shares.
- From "Alice Ryley, A Savannah Ghost Story"
What opera better fits “A Summer of Romance” than the greatest love story ever told? Zouves and her co-founder and husband, the legendary baritone Sherrill Milnes, bring Romeo et Juliette to Savannah through the sounds of composer Charles Gounod. Sung in French with English supertitles, director Fabrizio Melano looks forward to an intimate and beautiful performance.
Melano, an established leader of the international opera scene who has worked with everyone from Maria Callas to Luciano Pavarotti, is no stranger to Romeo et Juliette.
“I’ve done Romeo et Juliette a lot—at the Metropolitan [Opera], two productions on my own, one in Chicago, and one in Miami,” he explains. “I love the opera, and it seemed like a natural fit.”
The cast, handpicked by Zouves, features festival artists Meechot Marrero as Juliet and Santiago Ballerini as Romeo.
“It’s quite rare than an opera cast is across-the-board this good,” Melano praises. “I’ve worked with some of [the cast] before, and knew some of them, but I have to tell you: in all my experience—and it’s a lot, I’ve worked with a lot of famous people—this is the best all-around cast I’ve ever had. I couldn’t be happier with it.”
Melano has been to the Savannah VOICE Festival twice, teaching master classes, privately coaching, and giving lectures.
“This is a very special city,” he praises.
He is particularly excited by Romeo et Juliette’s setting in Asbury Memorial Theatre.
“It is a terrific, great stage,” he says. “Great acoustics and wonderful atmosphere. And, it’s very appropriate to do Romeo et Juliette in a church; the characters directly address God, and in the end, you do feel like they’re floating off to heaven.”
As most people have some level of familiarity with Shakespeare’s classic, Melano thinks the VOICE Festival’s production makes a great introduction to opera for newbies.
“For those who haven’t been exposed to a lot of opera, this is a great way to get into it,” he says. “Even people who aren’t familiar will get hooked.”
Any Savannahians who missed the October 2015 debut of Alice Ryley, A Savannah Ghost Story won’t want to skip out on a second opportunity to catch Savannah’s own opera.
Inspired by the book Historic Haunts of Savannah by Michael Harris and Linda Sickler, the “centerpiece event” of the 2016 VOICE Festival tells the story of Alice Ryley, an indentured servant who was accused of killing her master in the 1700s. She was sentenced to hanging and executed shortly after giving birth to a son. Ryley’s tale is a favorite among local ghost tours, as her spirit often shows itself to mothers and women. With sorrow, murder, romance, and high drama, her story has all the trappings of a perfect opera.
Michael Ching, VOICE Festival’s composer in residence and creator of Alice Ryley, A Savannah Ghost Story, is thrilled for the show’s return.
“I think we’ve done justice to a character who was really wronged,” he says. “I think that’s part of the fun of the story: you give Alyce Ryley a chance.”
Ching has started working on a second Savannah-themed opera celebrating the legacy of preservationist Anna Colquitt Hunter. In contrast to the dark, haunting nature of Alice Ryley, Hunter’s tale will be comedic, with Hunter herself more of a “benign spirit” than a ghost.
Festivalgoers can conclude an exciting two weeks with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute). The performance stars students of the VOICE’s Studio Program, an intensive training program led by Milnes himself. The Magic Flute’s themes of love, honor, and bravery will be the perfect Festival finish, particularly under the direction of Joachim Schamberger.
Three operas is a first for VOICE Festival, and the city’s warm welcome to performers and programming is a mark of the festival’s potential and success.
“I’m incredibly optimistic and impressed with the relationship the VOICE Festival has with the city of Savannah,” praises Ching. “I think there’s a lot of potential there for a really good year-round opera company. The energy here is really great and unique.”