BUNNY IN THE CITY: Savannah Voice Festival's Tenth Anniversary Kickoff at JEA

Caroline Brazelton, Michael Bonder, Toby Hollenberg, Torlef Borsting

Rushing over to catch the Savannah Voice Festival’s Tenth Anniversary Kickoff Concert and Reception at the Jewish Education Alliance on August 7, Cindy Nipper Davis and I arrive just in time to catch Carol Towbin Greenberg and her husband Dr. Joel A. Greenberg as they exit.

Greeting us at the auditorium entrance is my favorite “English rose” Lesley Francis. Lesley talks with me (a longtime fan of the petite PR professional) about tonight’s kickoff and the following SVF events. “How fantastic it is that Sherrill Milnes, the foremost operatic baritone of his generation and his wife Maria Zouves, a talented soprano, have made Savannah their SVF home for the past ten years?!”

“Spread out over 14 days, 25 artists from South America to New York and China to Europe perform 21 concerts at 8 iconic Savannah locations like the Telfair Academy and the Charles H. Morris Center. Tonight’s concert “Swinging into the Season” featured a montage of opera, broadway and song accompanied by the Elite Party Band,” shares Lesley.

After an introduction to former Andrew College president David Seyla, I pose Kathryn Wermuth with Minghao Lin and Holly Christenson then do a double take when I see Sherrill and Maria’s son walk up. How tall is Theo? How old is he now? This can’t be the same young man I saw two years ago!

Passing by a table filled with hors d’oeuvres, I say hello to Ellen Byck then pause Barry Cohen, SVF Co-Chair of the Board of Directors, for a photo with the talented Jessica Ann Best.

A veteran of the festival, Jessica is the first singer I saw perform and I have to say, she sounds and looks her best yet! Proud to learn that Jessica is playing Alice Ryley for the second time, the curly haired blonde is the face of the festival for me!  

There he is! Wes Krulic is looking oh so dapper and is always a pleasure to talk with. Devastated to learn of his wife, Judy, passing earlier this year, I took a seat to chat with the long time SVF supporter. “At one point during the past nine years we hosted - we had to move furniture out of the dining room and add two beds to make sure we could provide a home away from home for these up and coming young opera singers. This year I am hosting Leo Radosavljevic and Angela De Venuto,” shares the classically trained pianist.

Little did I know that the next singer I meet is Caroline Brazelton and that she is the recipient of the Julia Ann “Judy”  Krulic Study Grant Scholarship. “Knowing that these young artists joined together to raise the funds to underwrite this scholarship was an unexpected honor and I was floored when I learned they did this.This keeps Judy’s legacy alive by helping other singers,” adds Wes.

The next hour is a fight against time as I try to snap pics and chat with long time SVF supporters like SVF co-chair Toby Hollenberg and her “arm candy” beau Michael Bonder, new baritone with the festival, Torlef Borsting and “mister personality” Peter Lake.

With guests slowly departing, I take a seat with gregarious SVF Executive Director Chad Sonka to hear the 32-year Iowa native tell his story. “I remember my music teacher playing Mozart and was enamored. Ten years ago I was introduced to the most recorded American baritone in history and now I am person that helps young artists flourish with skills taught by the great Sherrill Milnes and Maria Louves.”

Finally! The woman and man of the hour have a few minutes away from admiring fans and pose for my best picture of the night. Maria and Sherrill look jubilant, and rightly so. This world famous opera superstar couple have made Savannah their chosen city to bring world class talent for a decade now. We cannot thank you enough for imprinting your legacy on this grateful Southern city!

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