Savannah is taking its place as a vocal music destination city.
The Savannah VOICE Festival in August was a huge hit, and now fans can look forward to the celebration of Opera America's National Opera Week, which runs from Oct. 25 to Nov. 3.
The events are sponsored by the VOICExperience Foundation, an educational nonprofit that helps young artists pursue careers in the performing arts through outreach and education. It was founded by opera legend Sherrill Milnes and his wife, soprano Maria Zouves, who is the executive director of VOICExperience.
The couple has been raising the bar for vocal opportunities in Savannah over the past two years, and is working for all-around artistic betterment in the city.
"We have 60 singers who now feel Savannah is an arts haven for them," Zouves says. "We must find more ways to help the arts flourish."
Milnes and Zouves have worked with other musical organizations in the city to bring more cultural events to Savannah.
"We're not competitors, we're colleagues," Milnes says.
Nine of the artists who appeared at the Savannah VOICE Festival are returning for National Opera Week.
"We'll be doing Musical Moments at the Westin again," Zouves says. "That went so well, we're going to do it again. There will be a continuous night of music."
Zouves and Milnes were very pleased with the turnout for the VOICE Festival.
"Everyone was so excited and so engaged and they wanted us to get back," Zouves says.
"'Pleased' is too small a word," Milnes says. "We were thrilled; we were excited."
"We feel we're part of the community," Zouves says. "Savannah has been very welcoming.
"Tourism in August was the highest it's ever been. We feel we contributed to that.
"The festival grew 300 percent from the first concert to the last, even though it rained and rained," she says. "I didn't think people would come out in the rain, but they did."
The audiences couldn't get enough.
"We had several encores," Milnes says. "They wanted more and more and more."
The couple also created the VOICE Society, which is open to local community members who want to support VOICE programs.
"The VOICE Society is now 100 strong," Zouves says.
Up first during National Opera Week will be the Sunday Soiree on Oct. 27, musical favorites presented by artists who appeared at the Savannah VOICE Festival. A similar event at the festival proved quite popular, Zouves says.
The highlight of National Opera Week will be "La Bella Sera," a night of Italian music, food and drinks, set for Oct. 29.
The evening will feature a special awards ceremony and exclusive VIP cocktail reception for festival sponsors.
"As we did in our first moments as a festival in 2013, we return during National Opera Week to celebrate in style," Zouves says. "We are asking Savannah residents and businesses to come to our first gala event, which helps us to continue our community outreach programs in Chatham County schools, support and enhance the overall cultural fabric of the city and bring more music lovers to Savannah."
The first annual Sherrill Milnes VOICE Award will be presented at the gala. Established to recognize outstanding contribution to the education of young artists, the 2013 Sherrill Milnes VOICE Award will be presented to soprano Diana Soviero.
An opera singer and "singing actress," Soviero has dedicated herself in recent years to teaching with the same passion she poured into her singing. She will present a master class Oct. 30.
The audience will get an insider's look into the process of great singing and dramatic interpretation. Admission to the master class is free, although donations will be accepted at the door.
"This year marks the 200th anniversary of Verdi's birth," says Milnes, himself a legendary Verdi baritone. "It is fitting that we honor my Italian-American colleague as the first award recipient at this Italian-themed event."
"She's such a great teacher," Zouves says. "This event really ends with a great level of singing.
"Diana is now at the Washington National Opera. She was in Savannah with us for our very first concert here, so it seems appropriate to honor her with the first award.
"Her master class will be the next day," Zouves says. "She is so energetic. The time goes quickly with her."
Joe and Rene Marinelli of Savannah chair the event.
"Rene and I look forward to a special evening with our friends and the Italian music, food and celebration - a true bella notte," he says.
"We are very pleased to be part of such a prestigious event and truly believe this gala will become an annual highlight on the Savannah calendar," Zouves says. "We have made and will continue to make a commitment to Savannah.
"In addition to these scheduled events, we will be performing at a special fundraising event at The Landings, which will raise money for a Chatham County women's shelter," she says. "Our schools' outreach program is being extended and we plan to feature even more 'Musical Moments' at the Westin Savannah Harbor's Aqua Star restaurant and bar."
Fans of the Savannah VOICE Festival will love National Opera Week.
"It's the same and yet it's more," Zouves says. "We're going to bring back some old favorites, but we'll also do new things.
"Then we'll come back to Savannah in January for 'La Boheme,'" she says. "It's all about the excellence of the performing arts."
IF YOU GO
Highlights of the Savannah VOICE Festival's celebration of National Opera Week include the Sunday Soiree, a concert of musical favorites, including a selection of arias, musical theater and popular music. It will be from 5-6:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Westin Savannah Harbor Ballroom, 1 Resort Drive. Tickets are $25 per person and include general parking.
From 6:30-10 p.m. Oct. 29, "La Bella Sera" will feature a night of Italian music, food and drinks with a special awards ceremony at the Westin Savannah Harbor Ballroom. Tickets are $125 per person or $225 per couple, which includes dinner, drinks and the concert. From 6-8 p.m. Oct. 30, the Diana Soviero master class will be presented at Christ Church, 28 Bull St. on Johnson Square. This event is free but donations will be accepted at the door to support community outreach work.
For tickets or information, go to www.savannahvoicefestival.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 855-76-OPERA.