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After two years of COVID-related hiatus, the Rossini Festival International Street Fair is back in all its glory. And in addition to its usual lineup of beautiful live music, food, shopping and lots of outdoor, family-friendly fun, this year’s festival features — besides its namesake — one of the most beloved composers in all of opera.
Giacomo Puccini, born midway through the 19th century, gave us some of the most ravishing music ever made in such operas as “Madama Butterfly,” “La Bohème” and “Tosca.” Even if you don’t know his name, you probably know some of his tunes. Aretha Franklin covered at least one of them.
Brian Salesky, who came to Knoxville in 2005 as the Knoxville Opera Company’s executive and artistic director, will conduct a program of 12 different scenes and arias from Puccini operas at the Bijou on Friday night before the Saturday festival. Salesky says he’s dedicating the concert to his mentor, tenor Richard Tucker.
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“He was the most impactful person in my musical/operatic life. And I’m really thrilled that his eldest son, Barry, is flying down from New York to attend the performance. I’ve known him for 55 years! This is a very personal performance for me and I hope the people will enjoy it,” he said.
The Puccini Gala Concert happens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 29, at the Bijou Theatre. Tickets are available at knoxvilleopera.com.
Salesky also has lent part of his collection of musical memorabilia to the Emporium, on view through the end of April. Included are mementos from Knoxville’s own Mary Costa and one of the two Puccini autographs from Salesky’s storehouse of “thousands and thousands” of pieces of musical ephemera. “My collection just never stops,” he says.
The main event on Saturday features 700 performers on five different stages offering 50 hours of entertainment from artists including GO! Contemporary Danceworks, singers from UT Opera Theatre, belly dancers and Russian Folk Dancers, the Knoxville Jazz Youth Orchestra, the Knoxville Opera Gospel Choir, South-Doyle and Cedar Bluff Middle School Choruses, Holston Middle School Show Choir, and the UT Jazz Band. The Streamliners Swing Orchestra will present a concert at 8 p.m., and the audience is invited to dance.
Food vendors will cover many international bases, including Mexican, Greek/Mediterranean, Asian, Italian, and of course good old American comfort food, including funnel cakes.
Festivalgoers can purchase one-of-a-kind items from over 50 artisans. There will also be a series of demonstrations, including basket weaving, pottery, jewelry, hand-spinning and historical sword fighting from Knoxville Academy of the Blade.
The Rossini Festival International Street Fair happens from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 30, all over downtown Knoxville. Admission is free.
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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Rossini Festival 2022: The Street Fair is back in downtown Knoxville