I’ve missed just one Spoleto Festival USA since 1983, but I’ll have to wait until retirement to achieve my dream: To stay long enough to encompass all major performances (which is mighty expensive at Charleston’s hotel rates during the fest) or to make repeat trips and not be bound by one weekend’s options.
The 2015 event, which runs May 21-June 7, cries out for multiple visits. If I were living the dream this year, these are the three events I’d see over each of the three weekends:
“A Streetcar Named Desire” – The Scottish Ballet does a danced (and partly spoken) adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ tragic play about a naive married woman in New Orleans, her cruel and cunning husband, and the needy older sister who floats into town after the family fortune dissolves.
“Paradise Interrupted” – For the last decade, Spoleto has specialized in Asian theater/opera. In this one, the set (a vast garden) will grow in front of you. It’s a world premiere collaboration between artist Jennifer Wen Ma and composer Huang Ruo. Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre and Shen Wei Dance Arts continue the Asian theme throughout the festival.
Mônica Salmaso – Jazz can be overlooked in the multicultural Spoleto schedule, but it’s a crucial component. This Brazilian singer will explore the songbook of her native land going back decades, along with pianist Nelson Ayers and saxophonist-flutist Teco Cardoso.
Bank of America Chamber Music – Programmer Geoff Nuttall has salted the 2015 series with more vocal works and contemporary pieces. An example from this weekend: a concert featuring a chamber-sized scoring of Haydn’s Symphony No. 104, Oliver Knussen’s “Elegiac Arabesques” for clarinet and English horn, and Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet.
Westminster Choir: “The Little Match Girl” and “Jephte” – This great choir anchors all vocal productions at Spoleto, operas included. Joe Miller leads David Lang’s Pulitzer-winning piece based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale plus Giacomo Carissimi’s adaptation of the Old Testament story about a general who inadvertently agrees to sacrifice his daughter.
Trisha Brown Dance Company – Brown choreographed postmodern dances from 1966 through 2010. This program of four pieces includes “Set and Reset,” with Laurie Anderson’s music and Robert Rauschenberg’s sets and costumes, and “If you couldn’t see me,” in which a soloist performs on a bare stage to an electronic score – with her back to the audience.
“Veremonda, L’Amazzone di Aragona” – Sixty years ago, finding a performance of a Baroque opera was like locating an intact dinosaur skeleton. Now they’re common, but Francesco Cavalli’s comedy-drama – a piece about the Spanish king and queen’s siege of the Moorish-held Rock of Gibraltar – debuts in a new performing edition after 350 years.
“Knee Deep” – Spoleto has often featured unusual circuses, and Australia’s Casus Circus fits right in. Acrobats in this one-hour show “are pushed and pulled, weighed and tested, as performers explore the boundaries of strength and fragility,” says the press kit.
“Romeo and Juliet” – Actors from Shakespeare’s rebuilt Globe Theatre do the first U.S. performances on the tour. The show takes place on an Elizabethan-style stage in a physically stripped-down production, with Sam Valentine and Cassie Layton as the star-crossed lovers.
If you go
Get tickets through SpoletoUSA.org or by phone at (843) 579-3100. The Spoleto box office is at the Charleston Visitor Center, 375 Meeting St., open Monday-Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, June 7, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
The alternative arts festival features, film, comedy performances, art exhibits, musical performances and literary events. It runs concurrently with Spoleto and even has its own Fringe series, which includes a performance of the self-explanatory “The Complete History of Charleston for Morons.”