Spoleto Festival a bit of magic

The festival claims that “Flora” was the first opera to be performed in the colonies, a claim that is hard to verify, and it also depends on the definition of opera. Ballad-operas were comic plays with popular music from various composers inserted, not unlike the structure of Broadway musicals. Regardless, this seems an imaginative way to celebrate the history of the jewel-like theater, which has undergone an extensive three-year restoration.

This year’s festival will run from May 28 to June 13 in locations all over Charleston. This season, the festival’s 34th, will feature approximately 45 different productions of opera, chamber music, dance, choral and orchestral concerts.

The festival will feature the American premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s opera, “Prosperina.” A German, Rihm is one of the world’s most prolific and influential composers. This work is a monodrama for soprano (to be sung by Heather Buck), choir, and chamber orchestra, based on a sturm-und-drang monologue by Goethe.

Franz Joseph Haydn’s marionette opera “Philemon and Baucis” will be presented by Milan’s Colla Marionette Company, which will also perform a marionette staging of “Cinderella.”

There will be two concerts by the festival orchestra. The first will feature music of Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss. The second will include Beethoven, Mozart, and Wagner.

One of the great strengths of Spoleto has been the renowned Westminster Choir, which will join the orchestra for Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Brahms’s Schicksalslied. The chorus will perform a capella concerts and sing throughout the festival as part of opera performances and other events.

The popular Bank of America Chamber Music Series will return to its regular home at the Dock Street Theatre, with two concerts daily, hosted by Geoff Nuttall. Musicians in these concerts include pianist Pedja Muzijevic, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, soprano Dawn Upshaw, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

Singers in the Wachovia Jazz Series include Lizz Wright, Norma WInstone, and Fabiana Cozza. Other jazz musicians include pianist Leszek Mozdzer, Brazilian saxophonist Nailor “Proveta” Azeveda, and 21-year-old guitarist Julian Lage.

Other music highlights include Astrid and Otto Rot of Die Rotten Punkte, a post-punk/electro/rock band from Germany; Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, West African Bambera musicians; New York’s Ebony Hillbillies, an African-American string band; and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a fiddle and banjo group from the Piedmont area.

Dance events include appearances by the National Ballet of Georgia (the “other Georgia”), performing Giselle, and the all-male troupe, Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo.

Ireland’s Gate Theatre will return with a new production of Noel Coward’s comedy “Present Laughter.”

The greatness of Spoleto comes not just from its size and breadth, but from its devotion to cutting-edge art. Nothing boring happens at this festival. More than any American arts event of its scale, it is willing to take artistic risks and to challenge its audience to think. These qualities bring together a uniquely sophisticated and dedicated following.

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