Festivalgoers at the 11th annual Knoxville Opera Rossini Festival will find familiar sights, sounds, and tastes—along with an exciting new experience (thanks to a partnership formed by Knoxville Opera and local restaurant, Chez Liberty) and even a new name: The Knoxville Opera Rossini Festival International Street Fair. According to Knoxville Opera's marketing director, Michael Torano, "It's a celebration of the arts, food, and beverages of other ethnic cultures—and we plan to expand upon that."
This year's festival has four outdoor stages, over 35 groups, 800 entertainers, more than 30 food and beverage booths, over 100 artisan booths, and a family-friendly kids' zone. The street fair will also occupy more downtown real estate. "Gay Street is completely covered, and we're also on Church, Clinch, Union, and Wall," says Torano. "And we're offering something completely new in the Krutch Park Extension." The "something new" is the Chez Liberty/Constellation Brands Wine Experience.
"We have a fabulous wine list and are trying to share that and show that each glass of wine at different prices can be an adventure," says Ross Young, owner of Chez Liberty. "I only have so many wine and alcohol calories in a day, and I want to make each sip be compelling. Wine is food, and friends, and sharing and communion, and each glass should be worth it."
The partnership between Knoxville Opera and Chez Liberty will be evident in several ways. For one thing, there will be better wines at the five wine booths along Gay Street. "The entry-level red is the 2008 Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon," says Young. "This might be the best entry-level red wine at a street fair ever. If you spend a few dollars more you can get a glass of the Lodola Montepulciano or the Mount Veeder Napa Cabernet. Likewise for the whites. We are bringing in the Simi Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay and a couple of charming Italian whites." In addition, Young adds, "Cassi Morrison, Chez Liberty's house mixologist, has concocted street-fair friendly cocktails, and Robert De Binder, our executive chef, has made wine-friendly fair food, which will be available at all locations."
More than 30 timed tastings will be offered in a large tent in the Krutch Park Extension opposite the main Knoxville Opera stage. "You can walk up if there is space available, or buy advance tickets for the tastings that interest you," Young explains. " My favorite is a toss-up between the 1:15 p.m. mac daddy Italians—you can taste Barolo, Montepulcianos, and Super Tuscans from Paolo Scovino, Tolaini, and Da Vinci, including the fabulous $200 Picconero—and a taste of the DuMOL Pinot Noir releases at 3 p.m."
The breadth of the tastings is impressive, beginning with a mimosa tasting at 11:15 a.m. featuring five different sparkling wines; Bloody Marys five ways (vodka, rum, gin, Guinness, and Bourbon); flights of gin, rum, and vodka where you can blind-taste different spirits; and a tasting of five Scotches, complete with a cigar. The tastings conclude with a selection of "fabulous leftovers," at 8:20 p.m., which, according to Young, "just might be the best pour of the night."
Michael Leedle from Riedel Stemware will be conducting $5 tastings of Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Zin, and all the varietals multiple times during the day. "You can taste for yourself the difference the right glass makes in enjoying a wine, and take home your tasting glasses ($35 for 4) or a full case for $130," Young says. "Also under the big tent we will have a full wine bar, with dozen of selections from our list, so you can sit in the shade, listen to the opera, chat with friends, and try a glass of something incredible."
It's not a street fair without food vendors, and this year not only are there lots more of them, but the offerings will be more diverse. "We will still have hot dogs and Cokes, but we're doing more," Torano says. "We're trying to enhance and broaden." There will be local fair favorites like corn dogs and funnel cakes, but there will also be a significant number of ethnic offerings: German, Asian, Mexican, and, of course, Italian. Vendors include Restaurant Linderhoff, Cheesecakes by Rick, Pearl Pagoda, Carelli Café, Roman's Pizza, and the Savory and Sweet Truck.
And there'll be plenty of opera. "I am particularly pleased that we will be presenting all of our Otello cast members on the outdoor opera stage at this year's street fair," says Knoxville Opera maestro Brian Salesky. "We are happy that everyone who comes to the fair will be able to hear this international cast of singers free of charge."
Knoxville Opera's "gift to the community," produced by event chair Allison Easterday and 400 volunteers, is a fun-filled day of pageantry, music, food, and, starting this year, an amazing wine experience.