Knoxville will become enchanted with the flair of Europe in this year's Rossini Festival, which kicks off Thursday.
It will include films, a street fair, operas, lectures and plays and will run until Tuesday, April 20.
The festival began in 2002 as the brainchild of Knoxville Opera's general conductor and director, Frank Graffeo.
In honor of the famous composer of operas, Gioacchino Rossini, the Rossini Festival celebrates the opera and European - specifically Italian - culture.
It is the only Rossini Festival in America and only one of two in the world, the other of which takes place in Rossini's birthplace of Pesaro, Italy.
The festival revolves around the Italian Street Fair, which will take place from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday on Gay Street.
The street fair drew 6,000 people in its first year and around 25,000 in its second. This year, organizers expect to see around 35,000 in attendance.
"The Street Fair brings a rich taste of Europe to downtown Knoxville," said Chyna Brackeen, Knoxville Opera's director of marketing and public relations.
Gay Street will be host to six stages, which will feature constant entertainment from around 50 different dance and musical groups.
Knoxville's Circle Modern Dance, which performed last year as well, will be performing three dances that range in style from comic to narrative to a fusion between hip-hop and modern dance, said Mark Lamb, executive artistic director.
Lamb described the unique opportunity that the fair holds for performers.
"The fair is just a great experience to bring dance outside of the theatre and into the streets," Lamb said.
Sean Clair, a violinist with the Knoxville String Quartet, described the crowd that he performed for last year.
"It's a happy noise. Everyone is milling around and enjoying what is there," Clair said.
In addition to entertainment, there will be an Artisan's Market featuring more than 50 artists.
This will provide an especially unique opportunity for Knoxville residents to discover the myriad talented artists in town and to purchase exclusive crafts and artwork.
Entertainment and market browsing will inevitably arouse appetites, which can be satisfied by any of the 17 food vendors at the fair.
The vendors will be serving fine Italian cuisine to make the cultural experience complete.
In addition to the street fair, two operas and a play - "The Barber of Seville," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Guilty Mother" - will be shown as a trilogy for the first time in East Tennessee.
Knoxville Opera will present six performances of the two operas and, in conjunction with Clarence Brown Theatre and The Actor's Co-Op, two performances of the play.
Those who have never seen an opera before will have the chance to experience it for the first time in light of the Rossini festivities.
Go to www.rossinifestival.org for more information and a complete schedule.