Spoleto will showcase historic Dock Street Theatre

After three years of polishing, one of Charleston's gems will be back on display during this year's Spoleto Festival USA.

The Dock Street Theatre, whose coziness has enhanced Spoleto plays, operas and chamber music, will welcome audiences again after three years of extensive renovation. Naturally, the festival - to run from May 28 to June 13 - is taking some cues from the theater's reopening.

Spoleto will revive the first opera performed in the United States: "Flora, An Opera," whose performances in Charleston in 1735 gave the art form its debut in the colonies. That run went over so well that "Flora" was brought back the next year in the then-new Dock Street Theatre - a precursor to today's theater, which was built in the 1930s in 18th-century style.

"We are thinking of 'Flora' as a gesture to the past - to the original Dock Street Theatre in the 18th century," said the festival's general director, Nigel Redden.

"Flora," which premiered in England, is a satire on the grand Italian operas that were the rage in 1700s London. Spoleto's revival will share the Dock Street Theatre with the work of a more recent British wit: Noel Coward.

Coward wrote his semi-autobiographical "Present Laughter" as a vehicle for himself, starring as a self-absorbed actor perhaps modeled on himself. Spoleto's performances will bring back a popular Spoleto guest, the Gate Theatre from Dublin, Ireland.

The Dock Street's reopening will also enable Spoleto's daily chamber-music concerts - the festival's most popular program, as measured by ticket sales - to return to their original home. They'll be hosted by their new artistic director, violinist Geoff Nuttall of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Nuttall takes over for the series' founder, pianist and raconteur Charles Wadsworth, who retired last year.

"Charles is inimitable," Redden commented. "Charles had a personality that projected across the footlights. Geoff has a different personality, and I think that will project across the footlights, too."

The festival also includes:


Ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, who starred in "Swan Lake" in 2007, returns in "Giselle" with the National Ballet of Georgia - as in the republic of Georgia, her homeland. The festival will also feature a revival of Lucinda Childs' "Dance," a path-breaking 1970s work that was among the first choreography based on music by Philip Glass.


The festival will give the U.S. premiere of "Proserpina," an opera by German composer Wolfgang Rihm. Based on a work by the German poet Goethe, it centers on the sufferings of the goddess of the underworld from Roman mythology. The Colla Marionettes from Italy, in conjunction with singers and the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, will perform a marionette opera by Joseph Haydn, "Philemon and Baucis." The festival orchestra's concerts will include "Also Sprach Zarathustra," the Richard Strauss showpiece whose opening was famously used in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" and heralds Gamecock football games.


Actor Daniel MacIvor makes his third Spoleto appearance in his one-man-show "This is What Happens Next," a blend of autobiography and fantasy. Musician and storyteller Erik Friedlander stars in another solo show, "Block Ice & Propane," a recollection of family road trips that includes images by his father - the noted photographer Lee Friedlander.


The festival's closing night will stay close to home with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, but earlier concerts will include performers from far and wide, such as Ebony Hillbillies, a New York group that gives new directions to African-American string band music; jazz singer Lizz Wright; Polish jazz pianist Leszek Mozdzer; a group specializing in West African Bambara music, Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba; Brazilian saxophonist Nailor "Proveta" Azevedo; and young British guitarist Julian Lage.


Spoleto Festival USA

When: May 28-June 10.

Where: Various Charleston-area locations.

Tickets: On sale today.

Details: (843) 579-3100;