In 2016, Spoleto Festival USA celebrates its 40th season. From May 27 through June 12, more than 150 performances and events will be held in over a dozen venues — including the festival’s return to the refurbished Charleston Gaillard Center, which recently completed its extensive three-year renovation. The $142 million neo-classical facility encompasses a world-class performance hall reminiscent of Old World opera houses, and it is certain to add a new dimension to festivalgoers’ experience.
“For Spoleto Festival USA’s 40 years, we wanted to make the program extraordinary,” says Spoleto Festival General Director Nigel Redden. “Producing our first Porgy and Bess — a work based on Charleston-born DuBose Heyward’s novel [Porgy], set in Charleston and about Charleston’s people — was a celebratory choice. It is especially appropriate that this opera will be our first performance in the spectacular new Charleston Gaillard Center. A 1970 production of Porgy and Bess, staged in the then-new Gaillard Auditorium, is a long-remembered civic event representing unity, pride and artistic achievement that we hope to emulate. Beyond Porgy and Bess, there is a celebratory feeling through the entire program that features the signature Spoleto Festival USA blend of new works and young artists alongside established international visionaries encompassing opera, music, dance and theater. I hope people will find many reasons to be part of this landmark 40th year.”
According to Redden, June will be a time of celebration of the festival, as well as a time of reflection and remembrance for the city of Charleston. Just five days after the festival ends — on June 17 — the city will mark the first anniversary of the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Fittingly, a number of performances acknowledging the event and commemorating the victims are scheduled. This includes the world premiere of a multi-media project conceived and directed by acclaimed visual artist Carrie Mae Weems and curated by Harvard professor Sarah Lewis entitled Grace Notes: Reflections for Now. The provocative performance includes music, text, spoken word and video projection. It also brings together a stellar cast of artists, including composers and musicians James Newton, Geri Allen and Craig Harris; poet Aja Monet; writer Carl Hancock Rux; and singers Alicia Hall Moran, Imani Uzuri and Esai Davis. Grace Notes will be performed Saturday, June 4, and Sunday, June 5, at the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre. A concert by celebrated jazz singer René Marie will also pay tribute to the city’s response to the tragedy by featuring a Spoleto Festival USA-commissioned song entitled “Be the Change.” René Marie will perform at the Charleston Gaillard Center on Sunday, May 29.
Other highlights include: the world premiere of Afram ou La Belle Swita, an “African romance” by Charlestonian composer Edmund Thornton Jenkins; U.S. premiere of the opera The Little Match Girl by contemporary German composer Helmut Lachenmann; U.S. premiere of comic Baroque opera La Double Coquette by Antoine Dauvergne; U.S. premiere of a new production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by Dublin’s Gate Theatre; and U.S. premiere of Golem by theater company 1927.