When soprano Maria Zouves sang at a recent Rotary Club meeting, people were so moved, they cried.
The wife of opera legend Sherrill Milnes, Zouves is the executive director of Savannah's newest cultural event, the Savannah Voice Festival. It will feature workshops, concerts and other events, all with vocal artists of all ages.
Click here to view a list of Savannah Voice artists, staff, faculty and ambassadors
Zouves and Milnes operate an educational program, VOICExperience, which is based in Palm Harbor, Fla., but has had classes and events in New York City and Chicago.
It trains singers from around the world and now has a branch in Savannah.
"We just incorporated the VOICE Festival as its own entity," Zouves says. "We want to make an impact on Savannah's economy."
The festival will run Aug. 3-17 in various venues downtown.
"It will be all kinds of music," Zouves says.
"There will be opera, Broadway, pop."
In addition to the festival, Milnes and Zouves have pledged to appear in Savannah at various times throughout the year, especially in October during National Opera Week. They are passionate about music education.
"Master classes are something I've done my full career," Milnes says. "My philosophy is it is a payback to the industry that gave me a huge career."
Savannah VOICE Festival schedule of events through Aug. 7. Get the complete schedule at savannahvoicefestival.org.
Death by Aria
Part One, 3-5 p.m.
Part Two, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Westin Savannah Harbor
Music Out of a Hat: A Game Show Concert with prizes and audience engagement
Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church
Admission is $15
Sherrill Milnes Master Class
6:30-8:30 p.m. Aug. 5
Westin Savannah Harbor
Admission is free
An Evening of Sacred Music
6:30-8:30 p.m. Aug. 6
First Presbyterian Church
Admission is $15
A season pass is available for $95. For membership and festival packages, go to www.savannahvoicefestival.org or call 855-766-7372.
Milnes' mother was a piano teacher and he intended to be a teacher, as well.
"I got a musical education degree, not a performance degree," he says. "I trained as a teacher. I was on the faculty of Northwestern University."
While Milnes plays an important part, he credits Zouves with the success of VOICExperience.
"She's the one fueling this," he says. "Gasoline, diesel, she's the one.
"I know a lot of people, which helps," Milnes says. "I have the phone numbers I use to get famous people involved."
The festival will feature dozens of artists in all types of events ranging from free master classes to low-priced ticketed events. Some definite highlights will come during Musical Moments at the Aqua Star, Zouves says.
"The idea is to give the public an idea of what is happening at the festival," she says. "The singers from the festival will sing and it will be open to the public. You never know what will happen."
Music lovers will enjoy the entire festival, Zouves says.
"Every single program is going to be interesting," she says. "We're hoping people will think about the festival as a positive concept.
"For the money, it's really inexpensive," she says. "We're hoping people will buy festival passes for $95.
"That way we know people are coming. We'd love for people to buy now."
For those who prefer to buy tickets at the door, that option is definitely available.
"I know Savannah," Zouves says with a laugh. "People will show up at the door.
"But it's so easy to purchase tickets online," she says. "Passes give you the freedom to do what you need. And if you can't attend an event, give the passes for it away."
All types of music will be presented, including opera. Milnes encourages listeners to give all types of music a try.
"Opera requires years and years of study," Milnes says. "Opera singers must sing in English, French, German, Italian and now Russian. That's five languages."
Listeners, however, should not be intimidated by listening to an opera in another language.
"They will be thrilled," Milnes says. "They will smile, laugh, cry, feel.
"Music is pure emotion," he says. "You don't have to know what is said if the performance is a good one."
The festival has blossomed through efforts throughout Savannah.
"We are seeing the city really step up," Zouves says. "Everyone believes in this project.
"That is necessary for its success," she says. "That gives us the strength to do what we do."
Savannah was the perfect location for the festival, Zouves says. "We didn't know there wasn't an opera scene in Savannah," she says. "The fact that there is no opera company here baffled me.
"What VOICExperience offers is education and small performances. We are in the right place at the right time. It is kismet."
Everyone has been welcoming, she says.
"I keep thinking the honeymoon is over," Zouves says. "Actually, it's the wedding that's coming up."