Rossini Festival Presented by Knoxville Opera, Knoxville, April 2023
The Rossini Festival, presented by Knoxville Opera, generally has good weather. For those of us who remember the wind and monsoon years, however, the bad weather association is strong. Early last week it looked as if the festival was destined for rain once more. What happened? A pitch-perfect day that most festivals can only dream of. Once the sun worked its magic during the afternoon, there was nothing more to ask.
I enjoyed the middle hours of the festival this year. In the past I’ve come and gone, which is a great option for those of use who live downtown, but this year I hit the middle hours. I was pleasantly surprised with the size of the crowds. There were lots of people, but very few spots seemed ridiculously crowded, which can be a problem at festivals. It made meandering through the sprawling footprint more pleasant. The festival stretched for blocks of Gay and Market Streets, included portions of Church, Clinch, and Union Avenues, and took in Market Square, a portion of Krutch Park, and two large parking lots.
I don’t always eat at the festival, and this year was no exception, but I did seem to notice a wider range of food. I was almost taken in by the smells from an Indian vendor. It’s worth noting that people were walking around enjoying their adult beverage and pandemonium did not ensue. Most downtowns now allow visitors and residents to walk around with drinks, making a more convivial atmosphere. It generally works out fine and its an area where Knoxville has some catching up to do.
There was a large area with massive inflatables and other amusements for children and other fun, like corn hole, sprinkled around in the streets. Vendors lined Gay Street and occupied a large portion of Market Square and the parking lot across from the Bijou. There was everything from pottery to painted gourds, from fashion to fine art, and lots of other items for purchase.
The music and dance, however, forms the core of what makes Rossini the special festival that it is. I saw a small amount of dance and focused mostly on the music. Again, the crowds were manageable and I was most able to find a chair to listen to music along the way. And, as always, the range of music is a delight. I listened to bluegrass on Gay Street, for example, and loved having music there mixed it among the vendors to add a little spice to the shopping and strolling.
I heard the Karns Middle School Symphony Orchestra on the Cumberland stage. It’s always heartening to see young musicians working it out, learning their chops, and, hopefully, preparing for a lifetime of at least appreciating, if not playing, music. I later really enjoyed the Powell Middle School Steel Drum Band on the Union Avenue Stage. Who knew we had a steel drum band in a Knox County middle school? They gave me one of my favorite moments of the day.
I’ve talked in the past about how much I enjoy hearing the choral music and this year was no exception. Choral music is something that is conspicuously missing in our culture, confined mostly to churches. I really enjoyed the Knoxville Opera Gospel Choir and the Appalachian Equality Chorus (formerly the Gay Men’s Chorus), both on the Clinch Avenue Stage. There was also a bit of beautiful opera between the two as this year opera was interspersed on each of the stages through the day.
I’d have to say this was one of my favorite Rossini Festivals mostly because the crowds seemed manageable the hours I was there and the weather was great. The festival was sponsored by Embassy Suites and I stopped in to see their display for the festival, ready made for the selfie generation and it was beautiful, as always. If you missed this year’s festival, you might want to take it in next year.
In the meantime, there’s another little festival next weekend – Knoxville’s largest and premier festival, the Dogwood Arts Festival on the World’s Fair Site and there’s more opera on the way with the Marriage of Figaro set to be performed next weekend.