The Savannah VOICE Festival's production of "Voices Around the World" was a celebration of global vocal music, delivered in a quick-hit showcase that ran the gamut of styles, composers and emotions.
Out of the productions I caught in the three-week affair, the festival's programming continually impressed, not only in the range of talent, but also in the well though-out productions and talent/piece pairings.
"Voices Around the World" was no exception, as the programming treated patrons to a range of delights. The German and Italian domination of opera and the classical landscape in general is unprecedented. The festival could have relied on these two countries alone, but delved into a global quiver to include French, Czech, Finnish, Spanish, Russian, Austrian and Chinese compositions. The evening was bookended by American musical theater, celebrating our own country's contributions to classical vocal music.
Several pieces took center stage in my mind. Tenor Carlton Moe was, as he usually is, exceptional. From one of my personal favorite composers of all time, Moe bore into "The Romance of the Young Gypsy," from the opera "Aleko" by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This is Russian opera at its finest, imbued with Russian ego and prestige. Moe did it justice, with an emphatic final statement of the four measure, high B flat.
Near the end of the program, Moe again shined in a beautiful rendition of Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehar's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from "Das Land des Lachelns" that seemed written for his voice.
Somehow, and to my own remorse, I have completely missed Chinese opera. Thankfully, the wonderful baritone Nana Qin shared two pieces of traditional Chinese opera near the beginning of the program. Since discovery is one of my favorite aspects of music, I am eternally grateful for something new. Hearing opera in Mandarin was refreshing and rather delightful.
Qin also revived his hilarious performance of "I Am Aldolfo" from "The Drowsy Chaperone" toward the end of this production. He did an equally funny version of the tune for the "Broadway Voices" production earlier in the festival.
Close to midway through the evening, soprano Angela De Venuto's performance of "L'alba separa" from "Quattro Canzoni d'Amaranta" by the Italian composer F. Paolo Tosti was cathartic and moving. A seemingly complicated piece to sing, Venuto delivered it with an ease that was both inviting to hear and riveting. She earned the night's only shouts of "bravo" from the audience.
Toward the end of the evening, the program cut into a different direction. For the American inclusion, and to give a bit of a teaser, the VOICE Festival showcased a piece from its upcoming commissioned work, "Anna Hunter," by Michael Ching. The full opera will debut in November, but patrons at this concert were treated to the song "Roads," sung by Jeffery Martina and Moe, accompanied by a boys choir from the Savannah Arts Academy.
I was treated to a private premiere of this opera a few weeks ago at the Davenport House. The opera's story is focused on the true story of Savannahian Anna Hunter, who helped shape the city we all enjoy now. The music and the story are quite wonderful, but it's also pretty neat to have another original opera composed about Savannah (the first being "Alice Ryley" at 2015's festival). In my mind, this seems like a fitting thing for a city continually caught in an entangled intersection of the old world and the new world.
In the same thought, "VOICES Around the World" captured an entertaining and engrossing spirit of vocal music that made the almost two-hour production seem much too short.