Above: Sila, an Inuit throat singing duo, will perform at the festival on Aug. 1. Photo via the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice website.
Over the past few summers, the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice has traveled (musically, at least) all over the world. 2013’s fest focused on Italy and Germany with works by Verdi and Wagner, and last year’s covered the music of Spain. But this year the annual event, now in its sixth year, is bringing it all back home with a program devoted to American melodic traditions. And luckily, we’ve got a lot of ’em.
As Patti Smith once said of the national canon, “Our music is family unrelated by blood.” That diversity is on full display at this year’s festival, with performances in modes ranging from gospel to Broadway to a Steinbeck-inspired opera. You can even watch a performance on a rare glass instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin. (It doesn’t get much more American than that.)
Read on for some of the highlights of this year’s fest.
The five-day fest kicks off with a concert that shines the spotlight on vocal vets and rising stars alike. Pianist and festival board chairman Justin Kolb opens the show with what is arguably the quintessential American masterpiece: George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. July 29 at 8 p.m.
The grande dame of “so bad it’s good” culture was Florence Foster Jenkins, an early-20th-century New York socialite who held regular and well-attended vocal performances—in spite of the fact that she was an awful singer. Stephen Temperley’s musical play recreates an evening with the eccentric cult sensation. July 30, 31, Aug 2
The Phoenicia Fest is taking on its first-ever full-blown musical—and there’s no more ambitious place to start than with this Stephen Sondheim classic. Based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, the story follows a circle of love- and lust-lorn Swedes over the course of a memorable weekend on a country estate. Noted British opera director Keith Warner helms this production. July 30 at 8 p.m.
This one’s mostly for the kids, but you don’t have to be wee to enjoy a rare performance on this rare old-timey instrument. Invented by none other than a Founding Father, the Armonica is essentially a series of playable spinning glass bowls. Former Metropolitan Opera Orchestra pianist Cecilia Brauer plays. July 31, Aug 1
Met regular Victoria Livengood brings her mezzo chops to the role of Madame Flora, a less-than-trustworthy seer, in this opera by Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti. July 31, Aug 1
Contemporary American composers show off their latest in this concert. Four vocalists perform the works of Jake Heggie, Ricky Ian Gordon, Tom Pasatieri, Peter Schickele, Robert Cucinotta and Carlisle Floyd, all working songwriters who will be in attendance at the show. July 31 at 8 p.m.
No survey of our national music would be complete without including the melodic traditions of American Indian culture. You can see a broad survey at this show, which includes performances by Iroquois, Sioux, Polynesian and Inuit musicians and dancers. Be sure to catch Sila, an Inuit throat-singing duo. Aug. 1 at 11 a.m.
Venerable American composer Carlisle Floyd wrote the music and libretto for this adaptation of John Steinbeck’s literary classic. Floyd himself directs this production, starring Met regulars Michael R. Hendrick and Malcolm MacKenzie as Depression-era odd couple Lenny and George. Aug. 1 at 8 p.m.