Paula Mitchell

Paula Mitchell

PHOENICIA–Bonheur pour les yeux!

That’s a good way to describe opening night of the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice on Friday.

“A French Affair,” a two-hour performance featuring the work of Édith Piaf, Jacques Offenbach and Jacques Romain Georges Brel, indeed was eye candy–not to mention musique douce aux oreilles, or sweet music to the ears.

The three-day festival kicked off on the main stage at Phoenicia Park at 8 p.m. with popular French song and dance.

Phoenicia Festival Opens With Lots of 'Ooh La La'!

The Barynya Can-Can Dance Troupe performs Friday at the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice. Photo by Paula Mitchell.

Though the grounds were soggy from earlier rain and thunderstorms threatened in the hours preceding the festival, enthusiasm remained high, particularly as the Barynya Can-Can Dance Troupe hit the stage.

The group from New York City charged up the crowd with its own brand of lightning, lifting ruffled skirts, kicking in sync and dazzling with all-around scandalous moves.

One of the crowd favorites was Olivier Laurent, who flew in from Paris just for the festival. Known as “The Man of 101 Voices,” Laurent performed a handful of colorful interpretations by Brel, Montaud and Chevalier.

Phoenicia Festival Opens With Lots of 'Ooh La La'!

Olivier Laurent of France performs at the opening night of the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice. Photo by Paula Mitchell

This marks the festival’s eighth year. It was founded in 2010 by husband-wife pair Louis Otey and Maria Todaro and Kerry Henderson–all accomplished operatics themselves.

Together, they dreamed up the concept of bringing opera to the Catskills and making it accessible to everyone. The idea was to celebrate the human voice in all its forms–from opera to gospel.

Phoenicia Festival Opens With Lots of 'Ooh La La'!

Maria Todaro, festival co-founder, surprises the audience with a performance of an Edith Piaf song. Photo by Paula Mitchell.

The annual event, modeled after the famed, multi-venue Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., has grown dramatically since the inaugural event held to raise funds for a playground at the park.

Each year, the festival features a full-scale opera with a star-studded cast.

This year, La Bohème by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini is slated for Saturday at 8 p.m. on the main stage.

It will star tenor John Osborn, sopranos Lynette Tapia and Mireille Asselin, baritone Lucas Meachem and bass Richard Bernstein.

Todaro is directing the four-act opera that deals with themes of love and loss. David Wroe, a native of Great Britain, is returning as the conductor. Last year, he filled that role in “Otello.”

Capping off the weekend is a performance of Duke Ellington’s “spiritual side” by the Catskill Jazz Factory on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

The performance will be led by percussionist John Lumpkin and feature two up-and-coming jazz vocalists, BriannaThomas and Vuyo Sotashe.

Tickets still are available for La Bohème and “The Spiritual Side of Duke Ellington. For more information on events throughout the weekend, go to




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