Savannah VOICE Festival Takes Patrons 'Behind the Scenes,' into Artistic Process

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Monday, August 6th, 2018

The Savannah VOICE Festival offers music lovers throughout the Coastal Empire a chance to experience amazing music at various stages of development. From promising, young artists who are poised to rise up to great careers to those who are in full and successful careers, audiences are treated to the full spectrum of the process.

A lot goes into that process – from auditions to performing on an international stage – and it’s a long, arduous journey that requires discipline, dedication and determination. Most classical music fans aren’t privy to the evolution of an artist’s career, never understanding how to coach, guide and advise play a singer in their journey. That’s where Savannah VOICE Festival through its sister organization, VOICExperience, has the advantage over other music events and productions.

SVF offers its guests many exclusive, behind-the-scenes glimpses at what goes into making an excellent artist. Audiences are invited to watch in amazement as young singers showcase their talents for expert instructors, and then blossom under their careful tutelage. The progress made is inspirational and interesting to those lucky enough to see it unfold.

Events such as the festival’s “Death by Aria” performance, “The Audition Project,” and a multitude of master classes put the evolution of festival artists front and center, giving fans a unique perspective on the foundation-building aspect of a career in the vocal arts.

SVF offers its patrons the opportunity to invest in All Access Passes, allowing them to enjoy the entire process, This badge gives those who possess it access to the Milnes VOICE Studio for observation and auditing, as well as all festival concerts and performances, including their special signature Food and Beverage Events.

When internationally renowned operatic baritone Sherrill Milnes and his wife, operatic soprano Maria Zouves, founded the Savannah VOICE Festival six years ago, they knew it had to be more than just a series of events and shows. Though SVF concerts are highly popular and very well-attended, the couple understood the value of showcasing the artistic process from start to finish. To do that, they put an emphasis on the incorporation of workshops, educational classes and other skill-building exercises designed to propel vocal artists forward and allow their fans to observe the journey. More than half a decade later, that unique facet of the VOICE Festival still stands out, drawing music fans who are curious to learn how their favorite singers start out and continue their upward trajectory.

Savannah VOICE Festival attendees’ first chance to witness the vocal arts in action will come on Sunday, Aug. 5 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. with “Death by Aria I & II” at Christ Church Episcopal, 28 Bull St., Savannah. The audiences will meet opera cast members, who will present their best songs and arias in a fast-paced showcase of talent.

Next, “The Audition Project” has singers perform for a distinguished panel to learn just what can take them to the next level. The audience will gain insight into the mind of the artists and panel members in this unique concert, which is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16 at the Charles H. Morris Center, 10 E. Broad St., Savannah.

The festival is interspersed with master classes, including one such lesson with the legendary Milnes himself, and another with opera superstar Denyce Graves, whose iconic portrayals of classic characters like Carmen and Dalila have earned her international acclaim. Milnes’ master class is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, and Graves’ class is at 7 p.m. Tuesday Aug. 14 at the Morris Center. Other free master classes, dubbed “Master Minis,” will feature opera industry leaders offering the next generation of artists tools to improve their performance. Attendees of these hour-long sessions will learn more about vocal music, technique and about the “masters” themselves. Every “Master Mini” will be held at the Westin Savannah Harbor, and they are planned on Aug. 7, 8, 9, 13, 16 and 23. All classes start at 1 p.m.

Master classes are just one component of the festival that will be hosted at the Westin. Once again, SVF is partnering with four-star resort and spa, conveniently situated atop Hutchinson Island on Savannah’s historic riverfront. As in prior years, the hotel plans to transform a designated area into a vocal conservatory for the duration of the festival. The Westin will host several other events, including “Pages in a Book,” a concert and buffet dinner, at 7 p.m. Aug. 4, and the “Masters in Recital” at 7 p.m. Aug. 13.

“We’re so pleased to welcome back the Savannah VOICE Festival for what is certain to be a stellar sixth year. To have watched this musical celebration evolve over the years into the powerhouse that it is now has been nothing short of amazing,” said Mark Spadoni, general manager of the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa. “We’re happy to have been with Maria and Sherrill from the beginning, and we look forward to many more mutually beneficial enjoyable years of making musical memories with them and their supporters.”

Just as The Westin was chosen by SVF leaders to enhance audiences’ viewing experiences and comfort, other event venues were selected for their merits, including historical status, accessibility, and community relevance. Sites such as the churches of the community such as Asbury UMC, St. John's Episcopal's Green Meldrim House, First Presbyterian Church and Christ Church, other iconic places like the Davenport House Museum, Yamacraw Center for the Performing Arts at Esther F. Garrison School, the Charles H. Morris Center, and the Jewish Educational Alliance have all become “home” to Festival shows, performances and assorted events.

Not only will the atmosphere presented by these locations add greatly to the shows that will be held there, the venues give SVF attendees a chance to explore and experience various parts of Savannah.

The Morris Center and Yamacraw Auditorium are relatively newer sites, designed to comfortably accommodate large crowds, and they offer plenty of parking options – a rarity when it comes to downtown facilities. The Davenport House, in the heart of the historic district, puts patrons near the Hostess City’s best restaurants and other well-known historical attractions, should they opt to learn more about Savannah’s sordid and intriguing past. The JEA, on Savannah’s southside, draws fans to a different region of town – one developed a bit later than the downtown area – with plenty of its own advantages, including easy access to major roads in and out of town for those who live in the city’s outlying communities, such as Skidaway Island and Pooler.

“This year’s festival has been so carefully and artfully curated – no detail has been overlooked,” Zouves said. “From the thoughtfully selected venues, to the various learning opportunities that exist for both artists and patrons alike, we’ve tried to cultivate a three-week festival that truly encapsulates all facets of the vocal arts process. The additional touches will enhance our supporters’ experiences as they re-join us for what surely could prove will be our best festival yet.” When asked how decisions have been made Zouves adds, "We have listened carefully to all the people we serve. From our patrons (lowering ticket prices) to our artists (offering more scholarships and more performance opportunities) to our production team increased resources, we continue to try to improve the process of bringing great music to the Savannah Area that drives economic development, community service and a high artistic footprint."