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This week in the arts

"The Light in the Piazza," Opera at USC's production of Adam Guettel's Tony Award-winning musical that will be performed at 3 p.m. today at Drayton Hall Theatre, is a big deal.

"It's a very new piece, and we do a nice mix of standard and new repertoire," said Ellen Douglas Schlaefer, director of opera studies at USC's School of Music.

"It's the biggest show we've ever done."

It's also a big deal because USC is one of a handful of academic institutions that has staged the production.

"The Light in the Piazza," based on Elizabeth Spencer's novella, is a love story set in Italy. In the early 1950s, a young American woman falls for an Italian man. Her mother opposes the relationship, and her reasons are gradually revealed to the audience.

The musical is especially remarkable because it relies on classical music and opera, instead of Broadway's traditional rock and pop sounds.

The love story is what drew Schlaefer to the production.

"This is just about love and the possibility of love," she said. "When we were floating around the idea of repertoire, the world was very grim. And it still is very grim."

Guettel, who wrote "The Light in the Piazza's" music and lyrics, is the grandson of Pulitzer Prize-winning musical theater composer Richard Rodgers, half of the famed Rodgers and Hammerstein writing partnership.

"The music really gets to you," Schlaefer said. "Opera companies are doing music. It's lyric theater."

The theater is on College Street, between Sumter and Greene streets. $5 to $18; (803) 777-5369

Raquy and the Cavemen, the Brooklyn-based group of Middle Eastern percussionists and musicians, will perform Tuesday at 701 Whaley.

The concert, which will include two collaborations with Delirium Tribal, is a fundraiser for the local belly dance company. Rhythmically, the band, led by Raquy Danziger, who has studied percussion in the Middle East and India, is a perfect backdrop for the fluid movement of belly dancing.

"They have a lot of really interesting melodies," Delirium's Natalie Brown said. "They really are high-caliber musicians. They're the kind of the people where they sit down and pick up their instruments and magic happens."

One of two pieces Delirium will perform with Raquy is called "Muli," which means spirit of the dead. The dance is set to Raquy and the Cavemen's song "Bahlaradia." The Power Company, Columbia College's troupe-in-residency, will join Brown in the dance - a reaction to the Taliban banning ethnic dancing in Western Pakistan.

"Some of the girls refused and kept dancing, and they were taken from their home and they were killed," Brown said.

It will be the first time the band sees the dance.

"It's going to be kind of like immediate fusion," Brown added.

The second piece, titled "A Veil," uses veils as props. This will be the first in a series of fundraisers for Delirium, which seeks to raise money for its own belly dancing and circus arts studio. Delirium has been rehearsing at the CMFA's Lexington campus.

"We've gotten to the point where we've grown and we need our own space," Brown said. "And we're hoping to get back downtown."

The show starts at 8 p.m. 701 Whaley is at 701 Whaley St. $10; (803) 712-3559

David Daniels, one of the most famous countertenors in the world, got his operatic career started here.

The Spartanburg native won the South Carolina district of The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, an annual competition that searches the country for the best new aria singers. This year's auditions will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the USC School of Music Recital Hall.

The auditions are free.

Eighteen singers will perform in front of three judges approved by The Met, one of the most hallowed opera companies in the world. The contestants have to prepare five arias, a piece for solo voice. They will perform two, one to be selected by the judges.

"The judges will choose three winners," said Van Edwards, who co-directs the South Carolina district auditions with his wife, Bettie. "They go to Atlanta to compete against Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.

"They choose one winner there, and that one goes to New York to compete on the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House with the Metropolitan Orchestra."

The New York winners will each get around $15,000, Edwards said.

"Usually, they'll get contracts to sing," he continued. "If not at The Met, (then) some other opera company. It's kind of a real 'America's Got Talent.'"

The singers, ages 20 to 30, will also get free advice at the auditions.

"The judges meet with each one of the singers," Edwards said. "It's like free advice for them. That's something that the kids always enjoy."

Daniels, along with Renee Fleming, Deborah Voigt and Jessye Norman, are famous singers discovered through the Met auditions, as well as Kathleen Vandekeift, a former grand national winner who lives in Columbia.

"So many opera singers get their start this way," Edwards said.

On Friday night, there will be a fundraiser for the South Carolina auditions called Paris Night at the Opera. Attendees get to meet the judges and Met representatives. Tickets cost $40. For more information about the fundraiser or the performance, call (803) 787-0287.

The USC School of Music is at 813 Assembly St.

"Wind From the Plateau," a production by The Folk Art Ensemble of Guizhou University of China, is a melding of song and dance traditions from diverse Chinese ethnicities.

The performance is at 3 p.m. today at the Koger Center.

Guizhou is a province on the Yun-gui Plateau in southwest China near Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Laos. It is a region that has been troubled by social unrest and clashing ethnic groups. But The Folk Art Ensemble consists of ethnic minorities such as the Miao, the Yi and the Dong performing song-and-dance styles that integrate cultures and traditions.

"They want to present the various cultures in China," said Hu Wei, an instructor at USC's Confucius Institute, which teaches Chinese language and culture. "The music is kind of a language without a country border.

"The audience can understand daily life of a people."

The group's Miao style was performed for the opening of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The music and dance techniques will captivate, but just as moving is the ornate costuming.

"There are beautiful costumes," Hu Wei said. "The body language can show people life and how they enjoy the life."

The Koger Center is at 1051 Greene St. $5 to $25; (803) 251-2222

"Wines From Around the World," a wine-tasting benefit for Trustus Theatre, will be held at City Art from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday. City Art is at 1224 Lincoln St. $45 in advance, $50 at the door; (803) 254-9732

- Otis R. Taylor Jr.

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