The end is near.
But don't be sad, because the Savannah VOICE Festival is going out with a chorus of laughter. The Funny@Five Festival Finale on Aug. 26 promises a lively show named for this year's overall theme.
"The past three weeks have been an amazing combination of music, talent, laughter and tireless support from everyone involved in making this festival such a wonderful celebration of opera and the cultural arts," says Maria Zouves, the festival's co-founder and executive director. "Our fifth anniversary season may be ending, but we are happy to say it won't be long before we return in November for the world premiere of Michael Ching's new, exciting opera, 'Anna Hunter.'"
The finale is always one of the most popular events of the festival, Zouves says.
"It's the big finish," she says. "All the great moments of the festival are celebrated and we save the best, sometimes, for last. Plus, it's all our wonderful and talented festival artists in one show."
The artists will present both material from other shows at the festival and entirely different music.
"It's the best of the best of the festival," Zouves says. "And it's funny at five."
In keeping with the fifth anniversary theme, Funny@Five, the finale will focus on the comedic aspects of opera, musical theater and song. With three weeks of performances and educational events behind them, festival organizers and participants have plenty to smile about.
Opera legend and artistic director Sherrill Milnes founded the festival with his wife, Zouves, as part of the Milnes VOICE Programs. Some of the opera world's top professionals come to Savannah to teach and direct performances.
Jorge Parodi, the music director at the Manhattan School of Music Senior Opera Theater, has worked with VOICE since 2004.
"This is my 13th year with them," Parodi says. "We moved from Orlando and then moved to Tampa and eventually to Savannah. I feel there was a great response from the audiences and great interest in what we do from the people in Savannah."
With Howard Watkins, an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, Parodi is doing the music directing for the finale.
"It's a big party, like the final party where everybody wants to come," Parodi says. "We pull all the stops. All the artists are available.
"This year, with our Funny@Five theme, there's a tremendous amount of comedy, from songs to musical theater to operatic. There are selections from 'Faust,' 'The Merry Wives of Windsor,' 'Into the Woods,' just about everything."
There are 15 singers who will perform in the finale.
"It's a big, large number," Parodi says. "It's fantastic. Everything is fun."
Parodi has other duties at the festival.
"I'm conductor for 'The Barber of Seville,'" he says. "That has been an absolute joy because the cast is so unbelievable.
"Working on the festival is not only great music and singing," Parodi says. "It's really fun to do it."
This year's festival is definitely a success, Parodi says.
"I think we are very happy with the results of the fifth year," he says. "The festival is always growing. As a member of the team, I'm very proud.
"Our singers are growing in the world. They get started with us and they come back. We're very pleased with their growth and the amount of singers and pianists we have.
"Also the audience has grown," Parodi says. "And their support grows as we venture into more ambitious programs."
The addition of another week to the festival was the right decision, Parodi says.
"It was easier than one would think," he says. "We have plenty of events.
"Planning and logistics takes more work, but because everything is done in advance, it's not really a big difference for the preparation.
"We were able to do it because of the support of the audience and the community is there," Parodi says. "There is a hunger for this kind of festival. We are able to offer more because there is a demand for it."
Singer Carlton Moe has participated in past festivals and other VOICE events.
"My first summer with the festival was in 2014 as a festival artist and cover for the festival opera, 'Don Giovanni.'" he says. "I've become something like a 'house tenor' for the festival ever since.
"In 2015, I sang the role of William Wise in the early workshopping for 'Alice Ryley' with the opera's composer Michael Ching in New York, and later went on to perform it during the summer festival last year.
"Also last year, I performed the role of Tybalt in the Festival Opera, 'Romeo et Juliette,'" Moe says. "I am also proud to be heavily involved with all of the outreach efforts in schools, retirement communities, hospitals, and local businesses that the VOICExperience programs do throughout the year."
Singers prepare a long time for their careers.
"I sang in choir and played instruments since I was in middle school, but I didn't have a voice lesson until I was 18 years old," Moe says. "I think music really took over my life in high school.
"I was in every single music ensemble at my high school, so music had become a strong part of my identity," he says. "It wasn't until I was in college that I learned what opera really was, and that I had a talent for it."
While the Savannah VOICE Festival provides entertainment for audiences, it also helps singers in their careers.
"One way that I think the Savannah VOICE Festival uniquely helps singers like myself is by exposing us to many different styles of music," Moe says. "In my first summer, I learned and listened to more musical theater than I had during my previous five years of classical study, and I was introduced to Portuguese Fado music.
"It is also, of course, undeniably humbling to work with the great Sherrill Milnes and receive his guidance throughout the festival."
Moe has had some memorable experiences with the VOICE Festival. One happened when he sang the role of Tybalt.
"In the opening night performance of 'Romeo et Juliette,' our positioning was a little off during the sword fight between Romeo and myself, and my hand was struck full-on by a sword," he says. "Thankfully, Tybalt dies shortly after and I was able to leave the stage to get some medical attention. I ended up getting two stitches and the kicker was that I had to perform it again two nights later!
"There was also the time during my first summer where I got up to sing the 'Libiamo' from 'La Traviata' for our last concert in Florida and messed up the words so fantastically that the other singers who were there still have not let me live it down," Moe says. "That experience is usually one I call upon to console new singers if they ever drop a word in a performance."
Moe has sung in the SVF finale twice before.
"I sang in the finale in 2014 and 2016, and they were thrilling," he says. "The finale is my personal favorite of all the concerts during the festival."
The 2017 festival has provided plenty of opportunities for Moe.
"'The Barber of Seville' is definitely one of my favorite operas," he says. "It is hilarious and has a lot of very well-known music in it.
"I have a special place in my heart for Verdi's 'Falstaff,' as it was the first opera in which I sang a full role," Moe says. "There are currently efforts being made to see that we'll hear some of it on the festival finale concert."
Moe is looking forward to the upcoming finale.
"I will be singing some music by Donizetti, Bernstein and Mozart," he says. "I'll be reprising a certain number from our Broadway Voices concert that our beloved Maria Zouves is quite fond of."
Moe is looking forward to future VOICE events.
"Savannah has become my second home," he says. "It is all due to the SVF and every person that keeps it alive and flourishing."
IF YOU GO
What: Funny@Five Festival Finale
When: 5 p.m. Aug. 26
Where: First Presbyterian Church, 520 Washington Ave.