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Larry Litt

Phoenicia Festival of the Voice

Phoenicia Festival of the Voice
Phoenicia NY
Reviewed Aug 13 to 15th by Larry Litt

Outdoor music and theater festivals are a wonderful summer delight for both audiences and performers. Of course there are weather risks, technical difficulties to overcome and always traffic and parking problems with a popular festival. However watching a performance under the summer night stars is a treat never forgotten. Most often festivals are family friendly and moderately priced.

This year I was fortunate to witness the birth of a new music and theater festival, "Phoenicia Festival of the Voice" in western Ulster County, just 20 minutes west of Woodstock. Phoenicia has always been a summer destination for Esopus Creek tubers and trail hikers. In recent years several visual art galleries have opened, with a scheduled artists' studio tour once a summer. But never before has the town seen the likes of Metropolitan Opera stars singing in their gorgeous mountain rimmed public park.

Friday night August 13th, soprano Elizabeth Futral enthralled the audience with wildly dramatic operatic arias and beloved Broadway show tunes. Her setting was resplendently verdant Mt. Tremper. Hundreds of young, mature and new fans were seated in front of the tree framed white fabric tented stage. We were thrice rewarded with magnificent weather and a meteor shower. Nights don't get better than this. Everyone was in love with opera.

Saturday August 14th afternoon, as part of the Native American world music concert, Grammy award winning flautist/singer Joseph Firecrow, composer/pianist/singer Dennis Yerry and master Native American storyteller Kay Olan demonstrated once again that the deepest, most primal emotions can be called up by listening to clear, direct music and riveting narrative tales. There's magic in sharing with ancient cultures, and respect grows with each encounter. I hope world music stays on the Phoenicia Festival schedule.

Same day at 2:30m pm the Shandaken Theatrical society presented a pitch perfect revival of Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire's "Closer Than Ever." This off Broadway musical cabaret requires singer/actors with a wide variety of ranges. Master entertainers Alex Agard, Janna Cardia, Austin Ku, and Amy Wallace brought laughter and tears to the opening night audience. Director Ricarda O'Connor had the cast moving, singing, hugging, attracting and repelling each other in a wonderfully charged choreographic display. I won't single out any one performer in particular as the cast worked as an exquisite, well rehearsed ensemble, supporting each others enormous efforts. Truly a privilege to see them perform in the wonderful playhouse.

Later that night chamber opera filled the park's August air. Verdi's comic opera "Falstaff" made rollicking use of dramatic sopranos Michelle Jennings (Mrs. Alice Ford), Nancy Allen Lundy (Nannetta), and mezzo-sopranos Maria Todaro (Mrs. Meg Page), Korby Myrick (Dame Quickly). Phoenicia's country casual audience was a sharp contrast compared to the formally gowned and bejeweled singers performing their highest art.

Baritone Louis Otey gave "Sir John Falstaff" a large and believable tragicomic personality. Kerry Henderson created a forceful baritone "Mr. Ford" with power to spare. Christian Reinert's romantic tenor as "Fenton" wooed the audience with every note. Dr. Caius played by Charles Sokolowski made buffoonery a sympathetic art. "Bardolph" (Gabriel Gargari) and "Pistol" (Stephan Kirchgraber) added the comic relief with their lyric tenors.

Conductor Steven White led the cast and brilliant accompanist Roger Cantrell in perfect syncopation with the singers. His explanation of "Falstaff's" convoluted plot helped audiences enjoy the show as a peak experience.

There were more events, Rozz Morehead's Gospel concert, guitarist Robert Burke Warren known as "Uncle Rock," renowned pianist Justin Kolb's playing with actor Jay Braman reading Broadway texts, and Sunday's choral finale with many of the Hudson Valley's major choruses sharing the big stage.

I couldn't attend all the events this year, but I'll certainly try next year. I predict Phoenicia will be a music and theater destination from now on.


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