THIS YEAR'S Savannah VOICE Festival season, which starts August 3, promises a diverse and exciting offering of opera, musical theater, and pop.
This year’s unique season is titled ‘Heaven and Earth,’ and celebrates “the two realms in which we live, with shows about what’s beyond our physical nature as well as the earthly temptations of our humanity,” according to a press release.
It will be the festival’s seventh year partnering with the Westin Savannah Harbor as their venue.
Ahead of the launch of the three-week season, we spoke to co-founder Maria Zouves.
For those unfamiliar with VOICE Festival, explain what it’s all about.
Zouves: The thing about the festival that is so hard to say in an elevator pitch is that it’s not one thing. It’s a combination of things. The best way to describe it is that we serve the general good of vocal arts. That means training singers from high school level on up through professional career, to audience development, to music development. We’re now writing our own opera. We’ve been saying lately that our capillaries are growing!
Now we have a new partnership with Hospice Savannah, working on music therapy. We have a memorandum of understanding with the Chatham County school systems. Our training programs are now seeing this wonderful evolution of the artists, who were with us 19 years ago, coming back as professional artists to star in our operas. It’s a one stop shop.
What’s the idea behind this year’s theme? I know there are some new and exciting elements this time around.
Zouves: I love the theme—it’s ‘Heaven and Earth.’ It’s kind of easy to see why we came up with that. Often times what I’ll do is I’ll look at artists we have who we’re nurturing. With deciding to do “The Little Prince” about basically this spaceman who comes down to earth, to “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” all the way to “I Pagliacci”—which is about earthy delights and temptations—you’ve got this duality of who we are as humans. We’re spiritual and yet we’re a slave to our desires. And I thought, “Well, it is heaven and earth.” This is who we are. As singers, we’re the embodiment of our art and then you have the physicality of singing.
So on top of everything we’re doing, we’re holding a 5K! Why? Because sports and art are the same. All of this duality really lends itself to the theme.
That’s really amazing.
Zouves: We always have these talking points, and it’s like, “Okay, everybody. We’re here in this moment. Let’s be mindful of it. Let’s not look ahead, let’s not look behind. Let’s just be in this moment and make music, and give our audiences something to be excited about.” Not just the music on the stage, but the process.
We want our audiences to understand what it takes to make music. I think the world still says, “Well, don’t you just open your mouth and sing? Aren’t you just so lucky to have that talent?” But like anything we have, we have to cultivate it. The training is out of this world. We accept that Olympic athletes have to train, but we somehow don’t accept that with singing. And it’s the same. It’s not different!
There are some non-operatic elements in this year’s programming. A Frank Sinatra tribute, and a “Music of the 60s and 70s” show as well, to name just a couple. Tell me about that side of it.
Zouves: ‘Heaven and Earth’ is about the dichotomy, so you’ve got both spans. You take the rubber band and you pull it. We felt the music had to as well, so we’re going in a very esoteric direction with the operas. “Dialogues of the Carmelites” is about as sophisticated and emotional as you can get. The composer wanted it done in the language of the audience, so it’ll be in English. It’s very much about life and death. I thought, “This is perfect. We can swing that pendulum all the way in the other direction.”
We’re doing “Forever Plaid,” which is a review of the 1950s hits and barbershop pieces. It’s a fantastic show. And then you’ve got Frank Sinatra, and then the rock and roll 70s pieces. That’s a lot! I could do five years of just the 1970s and I wouldn’t run out of music. These singers are so diverse, so beautiful, and so talented. They love that repertoire.