With more than 25 concerts, classes, operas, outreaches and other events, the Savannah VOICE Festival offers something for everyone. It has expanded to a third week this year, running from Aug. 5 to 27.
Members of the VOICE Society get something extra. While most events are open to the public, the Salon Series is available exclusively to VOICE Society members. Membership includes special access and benefits, including priority seating. The membership helps support the educational outreach programs of the festival.
This year's Salon Series opens with an intimate evening Aug. 8 at the Green-Meldrim House, "Saints & Sinners" with singer Jennifer Johnson Cano.
It will feature backstage stories of her career and musical performances by festival artists.
"It's actually more of a discussion," Cano says. "It is a concert in that others will sing, but I'll talk about the backstage perspective.
"Maria and Sherrill (VOICExperience co-founders Maria Zouves and Sherrill Milnes) asked me to come down. I had the time in my schedule and I was more than happy to come down.
"Hopefully, I'll share some insight into what happens beyond what the audience members see," Cano says. "Lots of people enjoy learning some of the inside stuff and the preparation that goes into doing some performances, what our processes are."
And what does happen behind the scenes?
"A lot of collaboration and how your perspective can shift," Cano says. "It's not simple. There's much more living in the gray area."
Because audiences usually see the finished product, they have no idea what has been done to prepare for the performance.
"I think it surprises a lot of people," she says. "My parents became turned on to opera because of my involvement. When I tell them, it even surprises them.
"What audience members get to see is a polished product. It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a huge team of people.
"What the audience sees is almost magical," she says. "We work all the kinks out to make it something the audience can sit back and enjoy."
Although Cano's presentation is open only to VOICE Society members, she can be seen at another event.
"I will also be giving a master class on Aug. 9, which is public," she says. "I'll be working with young singers on whatever repertoire they want to present.
"I find out what they think they need help with and give that a little extra attention," Cano says. "That's the goal, providing insight to audience members. All things have to come together to make a production really great."
While Cano will instruct others at the event, she's not teaching.
"I don't necessarily think of myself as a teacher," she says. "I still have a lot to learn.
"Working as a performer is a lifelong experience. I like to think of it as more that the students are sharing what they've learned. It's a shared experience, really.
"When I was in master classes, I was touched by people who shared their experiences about what they had to learn or how to find a pathway for solutions," Cano says. "For me, I'm happy to share what I know and hopefully help others."
Opera requires a lifetime of study.
"I think that's true of all musicians," Cano says. "There's always going to be a piece you haven't done.
"You'll work with colleagues with different perspectives. I can say having done certain roles, I relished the chance to do a repeat.
"Sometimes, it is a very subtle, practical decision," she says. "It is a lifelong learning process - a language you've never done before, a libretto you've never tackled before."
Opera can take performers around the world.
"I'm excited to return to Savannah," Cano says. "I'm excited to see Maria and Sherrill and work with the students."
In the years since she's been to Savannah, Cano has been busy.
"I do operatic roles," she says. "I work with lots of orchestras. I've made my European debut and done recitals and chamber music.
"I've been fortunate my calendar has been busy," Cano says. "I've had lots of opportunities to work with fantastic people."
Cano will share her experiences and give insights into her characters, from being a Met "Walker" to a modern "Carmen" to a traditional "Donna Elvira," while festival artists perform some of her most memorable music.
A native of St. Louis, Cano sang in school and church, and originally planned to be a choral conductor. A voice professor encouraged her to become a classical singer.
She made her professional operatic debut with the Opera Theater of St. Louis. Cano earned degrees from Webster University and Rice University, then joined the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Metropolitan Opera after winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2008.
She made her Met debut during the 2009-10 season. The first prize winner of the 2009 Young Concert Artist International Auditions, Cano sometimes performs with her husband, pianist Christopher Cano.
Among her honors is a 2011 Sara Tucker Study Grant, 2012 Richard Tucker Career Grant and 2014 George London Award. Cano has given more than 100 performances at the Metropolitan Opera and has a continued relationship with the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra.
Cano sang at the private funeral for astronaut Neil Armstrong. In 2014, she released her debut recital recording "Unaffected, Live from the Savannah VOICE Festival."
On Aug. 25, the second event in the Salon Series, "Camelot," will be presented at the Green-Meldrim House.
In addition to Salon Series access, VOICE Society members receive early seating priority at events, exclusive access to other members-only special events, early ticket sales to events throughout the year, pre-sale pricing at the door, a members-only bimonthly e-newsletter, and special discounts with local partners.
The Savannah VOICE Festival offers three membership levels beginning at $175.
"Being a member of the VOICE Society offers much more than the tangible benefits listed," says Savannah VOICE Festival Executive Director and Co-founder Maria Zouves. "Members are able to connect with our artists and operas on a deeper level while also helping to make a difference in the lives of our young artists."
IF YOU GO
What: Salon Series: Saints & Sinners, with Jennifer Johnson Cano
When: 6:30 p.m. Aug. 8
Where: Green-Meldrim House, 14 W. Macon St.
Cost: $75, open to VOICE Society members only