Savannah VOICE Festival returns bigger than ever

The Savannah VOICE Festival will return this July.
The Savannah VOICE Festival will return this July.
After over a year of primarily virtual fare and a canceled VOICE festival last August, Savannah VOICE Festival will be back bigger than ever for its ninth annual festival, Aug. 8-22.

SVF Co-founder and Director Maria Zouves believes the pandemic conditions have made them stronger than ever. “We were challenged with it, but we come out of it well,” Zouves said. “Why? Because we were fortunate to have our supporters stay with us through the process. We were just very fortunate that our audiences saw that and responded.”

[oullquote-1] In the year following quarantine, SVF has presented 25 different events with a total of 51 streams across 22 countries in the year after circumstances forced them to go virtual.

“We’ve cultivated new audiences that never heard about Savannah as a city of never heard it that way,” Zouves said. To ensure they hold onto that global audience, the Savannah VOICE Festival will continue to broadcast all their live performances virtually.

Another unforeseen advantage of the broadcasting during the pandemic is that the SVF now has a library of recordings that they can play back at later time.

One of the festival’s most innovative programs is “Flashback” in which singers duet with a prior recording of their singing that was recorded during quarantine.

One highlight of the fest will be the original opera “A Royal Feast.” The work was written by composer-in-residence Michael Ching as a sequel to Gioachino Rossino’s “La Centerentola” which is an operatic retelling of “Cinderella.”

What makes the presentation of “A Royal Feast” truly community-oriented was that it was written in collaboration with students from the Esther F Garrison School for the Arts who had input in the plot, the music and the text. SVF has been partnering with the local school system throughout its existence, but this year accommodations had to be made. The workshops were conducted via Zoom and led by Ching, Sonka, and Esther F. Garrison teachers.

While the original opera was in Italian, this version will be in English to accommodate the vast majority of middle schoolers who aren’t well-versed in romance languages enough to write opera in it.

The opera will be directed by Chad Sonka who is an alumni of SVF’s Sherrill Milnes’ VOICE program and is currently in his eighth year with SVF. He originally joined through a connection in New York City and currently commutes to the Peach State from Iowa to maintain his position as Education and Outreach Coordinator.

“They are a wonderfully supportive family and teach the total artist the skills needed to sustain a career in music,” said Sonka in response to a question of why he remains so active with the organization despite the geographical inconvenience. Sonka, who will sing in addition to directing, is one of many performers that come back to SVF year after year and Zouves likens it to a theater repertory company. Although new performers are auditioned every year, the group will only be able to start rehearsals during the festival, so a strong shorthand and professionalism is necessary.

SVF has been directing a lot of resources to a production of La Vie Boheme which many might recognize as the basis of the hit Broadway show Rent. Zouves said this is a good example of a work that straddles the line well between opera and musical theater that she is dedicated to exploring.

“I think lines blur, I think it’s a question of innovative concepts of cannon features and new pieces that are thought provoking,” she said. “So, I think young audiences are very much into the love of La Bohème just as they were into Rent on which it is based.”

The Savannah VOICE Festival is presenting an abridged version to trim down the three-hour running time. There will be no chorus and the focus with the focus simply being on six leads. Additionally, there will be no time frame to the story. “We are doing it as sort of an evergreen story of love and death,” Zouves said.

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