We're fortunate to live so close to one of America's premier cultural centers, especially with the return this spring of the performing arts celebration that put Charleston on the international cultural map, Spoleto Festival USA. The Festival returns over the Memorial Day weekend and continues for 17 days, drawing performers and audiences from all over the world to multiple venues throughout the city for its 45th year. (The 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic, but survived in a reduced series of radio and streamed events, "Spoleto At Home".
The Festival was the brainchild of Italian-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti (1911 - 2007) who in the mid-1970's began searching for a location for an American counterpart to Spoleto, Italy's, Festival Of The Two Worlds, of which he was the director. (The Pulitzer was for his opera "The Saint of Bleecker Street", but he's most widely known for "Amahl And The Night Visitors", written for television.) On a visit to the United States, he was invited to Charleston and noted that "It's intimate, so you can walk from one theater to the next. It has Old World charm in architecture and gardens. Yet it's a community big enough to support the large numbers of visitors to the festival." Promoted by Charleston's then-Mayor Joseph Riley and Theodore Stern, then the president of the College of Charleston, Spoleto USA opened its premier season in May of 1977.
The Festival has served as the setting for numerous world premieres of opera, theater and musical performance by artists such as Tennessee Williams, Phillip Glass, Laurie Anderson and many others. This year's Festival brings the world premiere on May 27th of "Omar", an opera by Rihannon Gibbons and John Abels, which tells the story of Omar Ibn Said, an early 19th-century West African Muslim scholar seized in his native village by slave traders, shipped to Charleston's Gadsden Wharf and sold into slavery for the rest of his life. The opera's based on Ibn Said's handwritten autobiography written in Arabic in 1831 and translated into English in the 1880's
Learn more about the Spoleto USA Festival, including performance schedules, here.