Picture, if you will, the immense challenge facing the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice in 2020, when COVID-19 was raging, all theaters were closed and, given the virus’ propensity for aerosol transmission, any gathering of singers seemed doomed to become a “superspreader event.” According to Festival founder Maria Todaro, plans to put on a live summertime performance of Puccini’s Tosca had been in the works for months before the severity of the pandemic became apparent, and she was determined not to give up on them. So, she made arrangements to produce the opera “with full everything” in an extraordinary format: live onstage, in front of a sea of parked cars on the former IBM site at Kingston’s Tech City.
The Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice has announced that this year’s live opera staging, typically the highlight of its annual summer music festival will be a drive-in performance of Puccini’s “Tosca.”
The performance, set for August 29, will take place at Tech City in Kingston, New York. As with drive-in movie experiences, audience members will drive into parking slots and turn on their car radios for sound. The venue and the technology will ensure that audience members stay safe in their cars while musicians and staff “socially distance” onstage or behind it.
The Festival "promotes the human voice as an instrument of healing, peace and artistic expression through presenting world class performances in Phoenicia and surrounding areas," according to its website. "From opera to gospel, world music to Broadway, the Festival celebrates the human voice in all its multi-faceted glory."
Over five days, two politicians spoke briefly at the start of each evening performance, emphasizing the economic benefits of the festival, which brought an estimated 5000 audience members last year to spend money at local businesses and also provides work for musicians, many of them from our area. In a clever gesture, two of the speakers, State Senator James Seward and Rick Remsnyder of the Ulster County Development Corporation, on their respective nights, conducted the festival orchestra in renditions of the national anthem.
Magic was born and an encore demanded. As a result, last summer those very same singers, Kerry Henderson, Louis Otey, and Maria Todaro put together a three-day extravaganza constituting the first official Phoenicia Festival of the Voice, with a performance of Verdi’s Falstaff sung largely by members of the Metropolitan Opera, and the debut of an original composition by a descendant of Johann Sebastian Bach. Those highlights, plus jazz, gospel, and children’s concerts, conspired to make it the surprise hit of the season, enjoyed by over 3,000 concertgoers..
The buzz around the art community, however, has been the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, from August 2-5. Celebrating opera, art song, Broadway and more, the festival brings together bright young talent and established professional artists. A one woman opera, La Voix Humaine, an operatic comedy benefit show, and a group of Mongolian throat singers are on offer, but this year’s highlight is a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on the Festival Stage, featuring the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera conductor Steven White.
Under the aegis of director Maria Todaro the cast features Joyce El-Khoury as Tosca, Dimitri Pittas as her lover Mario Cavaradossi, and bass/baritone Kyle Albertson as Baron Scarpia. One of the most widely performed operas of all time, Tosca is vibrant with passion and politics, as dramatic as it is lyrical, featuring some of Puccini’s most ecstatically rhapsodic music.
After much deliberation, we have decided that it is now time for us to come home,” the release said. “We are proud to announce that the festival will return to our original venue of Parish Field in Phoenicia, N.Y. and pick up where we left off…And this time we are bringing some friends.
The release said the festival has invited both Teatro Grattacielo and New York City Opera to join it this summer.
According to organizers, this year's star event will be the performance of the opera La Boheme, starring Metropolitan Opera singers John Osborn as Rodolfo, Lynette Tapia as Mimi, this year’s Grammy Award winner Lucas Meachem as Marcello, plus 22-year Met veteran Richard Bernstein. The production is staged and directed by Maria Todaro and conducted by maestro David Wroe.