NATCHEZ – The Natchez Festival of Music celebrated 30 years of bringing music to Natchez on Friday with a special opera performance, âString of Pearls,â at the Natchez City auditorium.
Festival president Diana Glaze said the Natchez Festival of Music started in 1990 with a simple question over dinner at the Santa Fe Opera Festival.
Lani Riches leaned over and asked her husband Ron, “Wouldn’t it be great if Natchez could put on an opera festival like this?”
At the time, the Rich were the owners and owners of Monmouth Inn. Upon their return to Natchez, a conversation began in Monmouth between the Rich and Buzz Harper, David Blackburn, and his wife Sarah regarding the possibility of having such a festival in Natchez. It was known that Blackburn, who was staying at the inn, was a respected opera teacher and conductor working in New York City and that two of the performers at the Santa Fe festival were singers in his New York studio.
Former Natchez Mayor David Armstrong has agreed to call a community meeting at the Carriage House restaurant. There he commissioned Blackburn to prepare a concept plan for what would be called the Natchez Opera Festival. When the plan was presented to Monmouth later that year, the festival was born.
Blackburn not only became the co-founder and first artistic director of the festival, but he also became a committed resident of Natchez. Blackburn died in 2008 and his artistic leadership was followed by George Hogan in 2009 and Jay Dean in 2011. Dean, director of the School of Music at the University of Southern Mississippi, continues to lead the festival.
âFor 18 years the festival flourished thanks to the artistic ability of David Blackburn. He had an incredible ability to audition and bring exceptional talent to Natchez every year, âsaid Glaze.
âThe city hosted 30 or more artists as well as a production team and an orchestra each May. Over the past 30 years, this community has benefited and helped launch the careers of young opera and musical theater singers. During this time, we have employed over 1,000 seasonal artists. “
The festival began as the Natchez Opera Festival and later evolved into the Natchez Festival of Music to include a more diverse selection of entertainment, Glaze said.
To commemorate the lyrical origin of the festival, Dean and director Carroll Freeman conducted a nostalgic performance by a chamber orchestra and opera singers Bridget Cappel, Tjaden Cox, Hosea Griffith, Maryann Kyle, Peter Lake, Patrick McNally and Stacey Trenteseaux.
Friday’s celebratory concert was scheduled to take place on the 30th anniversary of the Natchez Festival of Music in 2020, Glaze said. However, COVID-19 caused a change in plans and the artists engaged in the concert graciously agreed to return the following year, she said.
The first chairman of the festival board, Forest Germany, was also present in the audience for the Friday night festivities.
“Thank you so much for giving us a boost for another 30 years,” Glaze told Germany.
The mayor of Natchez Dan Gibson and the alderman of 1 Valencia Hall district also presented a proclamation on behalf of the city of Natchez in honor of the festival’s 30th anniversary.
“May these last 30 years be just a prelude to many years to come,” said Gibson.