The Spoleto Festival USA has opened its new season with a lineup that includes three operas, a production by Ireland’s Gate Theatre and a concert by banjoists Bela Fleck and his wife, Abigail Washburn.
The 38th edition of the festival concludes on June 8 with a concert and fireworks at an antebellum plantation on the Ashley River.
By that time, there will have been 148 performances by 63 artists and ensembles.
Several hundred people gathered in the heat in front of City Hall to hear speeches and a brass fanfare like those that have opened every festival since the late composer Gian Carlo Menotti established Spoleto in Charleston in 1977 as a companion to his Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy.
Ong Keng Sen, the director of the Singapore International Festival of the Arts who is directing one of the Spoleto operas, Facing Goya, is back for the third time.
He called Charleston “this beautiful city of enlightenment” and told the crowd “it is one of my greatest pleasures that I am in this city.”
He added the power of the festival is not only that it presents classical works, but provides a place where new operas can be produced and performed.
“This is one of the few festivals in the world and one of the only festivals in America which is still producing new opera at this intensity, with this intimacy and with this kind of love,” he said. “For that I am very grateful.”
Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley Jr, who helped convince Menotti to establish the festival in the US, said the city has been changed for all time as a result of the Spoleto artists’ commitment to excellence.
“That experience challenges this city and all that we do — to reject the easy, the medium the just OK,” he said, adding the city now seeks to excel “in what we build, in how we act and how we care for each other.”
The opening ceremonies were capped by a performance by Jason Hortin of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, one of this year’s dance ensembles.
In addition to Facing Goya, this year’s Spoleto is producing John Adams’ opera, El Nino, which tells the nativity story drawing on the Bible, European writings and sermons and Latin American poetry.
The third opera is Kat’a Kabanova with Tony Award-winner Garry Hynes directing her first opera.
The Gate Theatre Stage is returning to the festival performing the whodunit My Cousin Rachel.