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Go Spoleto!

South Carolina’s Annual Fine Arts Festival is the Belle of the Ball.
by Reid Hardaway

It’s never a bad time to go to Charleston, South Carolina. Amongst the cobblestone and brick laid streets, a genuinely affectionate community fuels a commercial industry that has earned its reputation for Southern hospitality. Arching light poles illuminate the restless nightlife, and anyone who spends an evening downtown can attest for its good times. And there’s also Charleston’s ubiquitous view. Whether one is looking off the pier or admiring centuries-old architecture, the city breathes sea air into every crevice. Merely being in Charleston is a soothing, invigorating experience.

For one big reason, the best time to visit Charleston is during the summer. There are constant opportunities for entertainment, whether one prefers countless venues for the arts, historical exhibits, commerce, the market, aquarium or simply taking in the excitement of the streets. But during Charleston’s summer months, the 17 days and nights of Spoleto should not be missed by any Southerner who has a penchant for the fine arts.

Since 1977, the Spoleto Festival has been a premier cultural event of the South. It was founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who wanted to create an American counterpart to Italy’s own Spoleto Festival. Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Yo-Yo Ma and Alan Ginsberg have all graced the stages of Spoleto in America. From May 28 to June 13, the streets of Charleston host the biggest names in opera, jazz, classical music, theater and dance. Spoleto has also become a forum for what are possibly the best marionette productions in the country. These are not your children’s dolls, but, like everything else at Spoleto, exquisite, dramatic works of art.

All events are within walking distance of each other and, in between, one should indulge in all of the pleasant distractions that Charleston has to offer, not least of which is the fine dining.  Of the 140 performances this year, those not to be missed are the anticipated U.S. premier of Wolfgang Rihm’s opera Proserpina; the esteemed comedy by Noel Coward Present Laughter; Flora an Opera, the first opera ever performed in the American colonies, at the newly restored Dock Street Theatre; and what is sure to be a stirring marionette production of Hayden’s opera Philemon and Baucis. Big names in music this year include jazz vocalist Lizz Wright, local favorite the Carolina Chocolate Drops, internationally renowned Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, New York’s The Ebony Hillbillies and 21-year-old Grammy-nominated guitarist Julian Lage.

Natives of South Carolina may be particularly interested in author Pat Conroy’s South of Broad Walking Tour, which includes the Dock Street Theatre. South Carolina is not yet world renowned for its fine arts, but with the growing popularity of Spoleto, now in its 34th year, that may soon change. For any Southerner who wants to be part of the South’s burgeoning arts movement, the upcoming Spoleto Festival is a great place to start.

If You Go:

United Airlines is the official airline sponsor of the Spoleto Festival and offers numerous flights to Charleston. Preferred Spoleto hotels include the Charleston Place Hotel, Francis Marion Hotel, French Quarter Inn, Harbourview Inn and the Wentworth Mansion. For eats, try Hominy Grill, Poogan’s Porch, 82 Queen and Fat Hen.

Photo Credits (from top): Opening Ceremonies courtesy of Spoleto Festival; Jove and Philemon courtesy of The Colla Marionette Company; Carolina Chocolate Drops photo by Julie Roberts; and quintet from the gala reopening of Dock Street Theatre photo by William Struhs.

Reid Hardaway is an author and native of South Carolina. He has spent his life traveling the Southern United States and recording his various exploits.

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