Summer Festivals: Chamber Music Riches, New Opera Top Spoleto USA

Dock Street Theater. Photo by Julia Lynn
Dock Street Theater. Photo by Julia Lynn
By John W. Lambert

Spoleto Festival USA, the American artistic sister of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s Italian festival, established in 1977, fills the beautiful and historic South Carolina city that rests just west of Fort Sumter (where the first shots of the Civil War were fired), between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers (both named for the first Lord Proprietor of the Carolina Colony). The city exudes Southern ambience and charm in all the right ways and is further graced by exceptional churches, superb cuisine, and vestiges of the Gullah language that echo in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which is set there. Festival venues are nicely concentrated, making access relatively simple. And the city hosts its own concurrent Piccolo Spoleto Festival, highlighting local artists, with hundreds of things to do and see.

“The Festival’s mission is to present programs of the highest artistic caliber while maintaining a dedication to young artists, a commitment to all forms of the performing arts, a passion for contemporary innovation, and an enthusiasm for providing unusual performance opportunities for established artists.” It does so in presentations spread across 17 days, highlights of which this year include:

Operas, starting May 24: Matsukaze – the American premiere of Toshio Hosokawa’s opera, a love story where two ghosts who are sisters wander the earth trying to release themselves from mortal love, directed by Chen Shi-Zheng; & a double bill offering the first fully-staged productions of Puccini’s Le Villi and Giordano’s Mese Mariano, two rarely-performed Italian works with themes of female heartbreak. (For an excerpt from Matsukaze, click the “play” button in the block to the right.)

PrintChamber Music, starting May 24: 11 programs, each offered twice, featuring stellar artists and ensembles, sometimes playing alongside exceptional young people (à la Marlboro). This season features the premiere of Samuel Carl Adams’ String Quartet; performers include the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Brentano Quartet, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, bassist Anthony Manzo, pianists Pedja Muzijevic and Pavel Kolesnikov, and percussionist Steven Schick.

Orchestral Music, starting May 28: Music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Bartók, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, and two contemporary masters: American John Adams (Harmonielehre, 1985) and Latvian Pēteris Vasks (Credo, 2009 – American premiere).

Joseph Flummerfelt’s Farewell as Artistic Director of Choral Activities, June 6: The Maestro departs with Verdi’s Requiem, featuring the Westminster Choir, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra.

Plus…: the Westminster Choir in two other programs and various new music concerts, chamber music, and recitals in nearby houses of worship.

And also of note: The U.S.  premiere of a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a collaboration between Tom Morris and the Handspring Puppet Company.

For complete details, click here.

For more information, visit the Festival’s FAQ page, call the box office at 843-579-3100, or write to

John W. Lambert is the former Executive Editor of Classical Voice North Carolina.