Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the world’s major performing arts festivals. It was founded in 1977 by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who sought to establish a counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi (the Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy. The annual 17-day event showcases both established and emerging artists in more than 120 performances of opera, dance, theater, classical music, and jazz.
When Italian organizers planned an American festival, they searched for a city that would offer the charm of Spoleto, Italy, and also its wealth of theaters, churches, and other performance spaces. Charleston was selected as the ideal location.
The Festival’s mission
One of the Festival’s tenets is to provide young artists the opportunity to work with veteran directors, designers and performers. World-renowned artists who performed at Spoleto Festival USA early in their careers include Renée Fleming, Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Yo-Yo Ma.
Each year, Spoleto Festival USA produces its own operas, which are rarely performed masterpieces by well-known composers or traditional works presented in new ways, and also presents theater, dance and music ranging from classical to jazz. Since its inception, the Festival has presented 100 international premieres and 93 U.S. premieres, notably Creve Coeur by Tennessee Williams and The American Clock by Arthur Miller.
The 2011 Spoleto Festival USA will be held from May 27 to June 12.
The 2011 opera program offers audiences three productions of distinct style and subject. Richly woven with ritual and symbolism, Mozart’s operatic masterpiece The Magic Flute is a profound look at man’s quest for love, wisdom, and virtue. Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier direct this most beloved of Mozart operas. Steven Sloane, former Festival music director, will conduct the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra.
Émilie is revered Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s homage to larger-than-life Enlightenment-age scientist and femme extraordinaire Émilie du Châtelet. World-renowned soprano Elizabeth Futral makes her Festival debut in this American premiere. The Spoleto Festival USA production will be directed by Marianne Weems, the artistic director of New York’s The Builders Association theater company. Émilie (opera) will be Weems’ debut opera production. John Kennedy, the Festival’s newly named Resident Conductor, will conduct the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra.
And, in celebration of the centenary of the birth of Gian Carlo Menotti—Pulitzer Prize–winning composer and Festival founder—Spoleto presents one of Menotti’s most popular and compelling operas, The Medium. The Spoleto Festival USA production is directed and designed by John Pascoe (of last season’s acclaimed Flora, an Opera) with Artistic Director for Choral Activities Joseph Flummerfelt conducting the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra.
The 2011 theater lineup features two major European ensembles. Ireland’s renowned Druid Theatre Company will make its Festival debut with its multi-award-winning production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, written by Martin McDonagh and directed by Druid’s Tony Award–winning artistic director Garry Hynes.
And the highly innovative Cornwall (UK)-based Kneehigh Theatre returns with The Red Shoes, a grisly retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic directed by Emma Rice.
Arresting New York voices will be heard in two solo theater shows: County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle, features hip-hop theater artist Lemon Andersen (Lemon (poet) offering his version of the coming-of-age memoir in a jarring narrative. And downtown icon Edgar Oliver spins a fascinating tale of his decades in a decayed New York boarding house in East 10th Street: Self Portrait with Empty House.
Set in a modern-day Pentecostal church, The Gospel at Colonus is a radical reworking of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus that seamlessly blends the agony of Greek tragedy with the ecstasy of American gospel music to profound effect. Conceived and directed by Lee Breuer with music by Bob Telson.
The 2011 dance series showcases Spain-based Corella Ballet, created two years ago by American Ballet Theatre star Ángel Corella and now claiming its place among Europe’s most exhilarating dance troupes.
Choreographer Emmanuèle Phuon presents Khmeropédies I & II and is helping to revive the nearly lost art of ancient Khmer dance while evolving it for the modern age.
Shen Wei Dance Arts further explores Cambodian culture, as well as that of Tibet and Shen’s native China, in the lyrical three-part series Re-Parts I, II, III.
And the innovative choreographer Jérôme Bel offers snapshots of renowned contemporary dancer Cédric Andrieux’s life in dance in an intimate visual autobiography that reveals the world of contemporary dance and the life of a performer.
Circa is making its Spoleto Festival debut in 2011. Directed by Yaron Lifschitz, Australia’s Circa combines acrobatics with contemporary choreography and humor. Featuring seven performers, Circa delivers intricate sequences with precision and aplomb.
Bank of America Chamber Music concerts will feature the traditional changing roster of artists and 11 programs performed twice daily in the historic Dock Street Theatre. Led by Director for Chamber Music Geoff Nuttall, esteemed musicians returning to the Festival in 2011 will include the St. Lawrence String Quartet, pianist Pedja Muzijevic, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, pianist Inon Barnatan, and clarinetist Todd Palmer. Accomplished newcomers to this year’s series include violist Carolyn Blackwell and oboist James Smith. Specific repertoire and artists will be announced at the first performance of each program.
Talented young American conductor James Gaffigan will make his Spoleto debut guest conducting the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra in a concert of Richard Strauss’ Dance of the Seven Veils, Debussy’s Fragments from the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5.
In another performance, the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra will perform under the baton of Joseph Flummerfelt in an evening of Bernstein (Chichester Psalms), Brahms (Alto Rhapsody), and Bruckner (Te Deum) with the Westminster Choir and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus. The Westminster Choir will additionally offer their traditional a cappella concerts, conducted by Joe Miller, director of choral activities at Westminster Choir College.
Edgy fare can be found in late-night concerts by the larger than life performer, writer, and director Taylor Mac, who returns to Charleston with Comparison Is Violence or the Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook.
In another late-night run, Indie-pop darlings Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (Dean and Britta) perform their original music live with a four-piece band beneath large-scale video projections of Warhol’s rarely seen silent-film portraits, his famous Screen Tests, in 13 Most Beautiful…Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests.
Multi–Grammy Award–winning Béla Fleck will perform with his Original Flecktones to freely cross the terrains of folk, bluegrass, funk, and jazz in search of fresh and exciting new music.
Newcomer Sarah Jarosz, who released her first CD, Song Up In Her Head, to critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination in 2009 at age 18, comes to the Festival following her time at the New England Conservatory of Music. Resident Conductor John Kennedy’s thought-provoking Music in Time series will include the work of Émilie composer Kaija Saariaho and Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Paul Moravec.
Intermezzi concerts will feature chamber ensembles from the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra in performances to include Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, On an Overgrown Path by Leoš Janáček, and Haydn’s Symphony No. 6. And the legendary Del McCoury Band, 2010 Grammy Award nominees for best bluegrass album (Family Circle), will bring the 2011 Festival to a celebratory end at the Festival Finale.
WELLS FARGO JAZZ
The Wells Fargo Jazz series (formerly Wachovia Jazz) will showcase diverse musical styles, including Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Schooled in jazz from an early age Shorty has, in his own words, “found a way to make everything fit—the jazz, high-energy funk-rock, and a little hip-hop.” Shorty was nominated for a 2010 Grammy Award for best contemporary jazz album (Backatown).
Two acclaimed jazz vocalists will be returning to Spoleto as headliners: four-time Grammy Award winner Dianne Reeves, recognized as one of jazz’s preeminent vocalists; and the musically fearless Karrin Allyson, called “one of the world’s finest” by the Los Angeles Times.
Featured instrumentalists from around the world will include acclaimed Norwegian pianist Ketil Bjørnstad; Toninho Ferragutti, a Brazilian accordionist who blends the tradition of the accordion with the world of chamber music; and Italian pianist Danilo Rea, who combines melodies of diverse sources into lyrical new music. The series will be rounded out by one of Argentina’s most respected jazz duos, bassist Willy González and vocalist Micaela Vita.
Italian miniaturist and photographer Paolo Ventura invents scenes from the memory banks of an old circus performer looking back on his life in the series of photographs entitled Winter Stories. In a partnership between Spoleto and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Ventura’s miniatures will be displayed alongside their photographed images, evoking the melancholy of an earlier era while remaining timeless in their ability to resonate with contemporary audiences.