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Savannah VOICE Fest features Don Giovanni 

Mozart classic tops the itinerary

The Savannah VOICE Festival returns Aug. 1 for its second year, poised to build off last year's good start.

“It’s like falling in love,” says Maria Zouves, co-founder of the all-opera event. “Savannah wants this to happen, and we want it to happen.”

For two weeks, the 2014 festival will offer opera performances all over the downtown area. The concerts and events highlight a range of talent, vocalists coming straight from the Met alongside studio artists practicing their vocal skills.

“You’re hearing all the levels in 24 hours,” Zouves says. “With the studio artists, it’s like you’re watching them develop and grow.”

The festival partners with the nonprofit organization, VOICExperience, that helps young artists explore performing arts careers. Zouves, a soprano opera singer, and her husband, opera legend Sherrill Milnes, are in charge of both of them. VOICExperience is based in Palm Harbor, Florida, but Milnes and Zouves travel to Savannah to put on the festival.

Savannah may be known for other musical celebrations like Stopover and the Savannah Music Festival, but Zouves argues that classical music belongs here just as much as other genres do.

“Opera is kind of associated with grand opera,” Zouves says, an impression her group is trying to change. For this year’s centerpiece, a production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, “We’re using a chamber orchestra instead of a bigger one, and we’re using Savannah as our operatic set.”

The “boutique production” of Don Giovanni, presented Aug. 3 and 5 in the sanctuary at Christ Church Savannah, features a number of nationally-known opera singers, many of whom have appeared in Savannah at other Zouves/Milnes-sponsored concert events.

It’s not “grand” opera; more like “intimate” opera.

Getting opera out of the opera house, Zouves says, makes it more accessible to those who are new to the experience. Plus, she likes capitalizing on Savannah’s rich history.

“Savannah is operatic! It’s historic, it’s interesting,” she says. “We have haunted houses. How much more dramatic can you be?”

In just two years, the festival has gained a lot of support, from local to international fans. This year, 12 singers’ visits are sponsored by Savannahians, which, Zouves explains, means that the locals are paying for their favorite opera singers to return this year.

She also mentions that people are coming from out of the country to experience the festival. “Dare I say, as small as we are, we’re becoming a leader in the operatic community,” she beams.

The audience, adds Zouves, is changing ... in a good way. “Another part of our mission is to perpetuate the art through the young people. They have no presupposed ideas. Kids are the future of this art.”

Savannah VOICE Festival public events

Tickets at savannahvoicefestival.org

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