Spoleto Festival USA Announces 30th Anniversary Season
Lovers of opera and chamber music ought to browse the website of the Spoleto Festival USA to plan trips to Charleston, SC, for the 30th anniversary season and to secure the tickets for events that are certain to sell out quickly.
This year, only two operas will staged. The new production is Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, which will be directed by the French team of Jean-Philippe Clarac and Olivier Deloeuil, recently appointed co-Artistic Directors of L’Opéra Français de New York. Tommaso Placidi will conduct members of the Spoleto Festival Orchestra. Soprano Nicole Cabell, 2005 winner of the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, will sing the role of Juliette opposite tenor Frédéric Antoun as Roméo. Tenor Victor Ryan Robertson will sing Tybalt and baritone Kevin Greenlaw, Mercutio. Baritone Stephen Gaertner will appear as Paris, bass Rosendo Flores, Frère Laurent, and bass Malcolm Smith, the Duc de Verone. Singers returning to the Festival include mezzo-soprano Jane Shaulis as Gertrude and soprano Patricia Risley as Stephano. The sets and costumes will be designed by Carol Bailey, whose work has included numerous productions for the New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, and Royal Danish Opera. Performances will take place in the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. This opera abounds with fine arias, duets, and comic scenes and features a spectacular street fight between the rival houses.
Last year’s controversial staging of Mozart’s Don Giovanni by Günter Krämer’s sold out shortly after it was announced. The opera is popular, but a contributing factor was the wholesale gutting of the Memminger Auditorium (the festival’s finest venue, acoustically), which led to a drastic reduction of seating. A narrow range of racked seating on three sides surrounds a 7,500-square-foot space that presents a rolling landscape with life-sized cherry trees, a waterfall across a huge sculpture of a head, and a wading pool. Brash displays of sexuality and humor and temporal ambiguity caused lively debates. (For example, instead of referring to a “black book” during the “Catalog Aria,” Leporello opens a steamer trunk of alleged pornographic photos; and at Don Giovanni’s dinner, in the last act, a large bucket of Colonel Sanders’ fried chicken was wolfed down with gusto.) While Krämer’s production, being revived in Memminger, would not be a good first choice for novices, it will be fascinating for those who have seen many standard productions.
There was no disagreement about the high musical standards of the vivacious cast of singers or of the members of the Spoleto Festival USA orchestra under the deft baton of Festival Director Emmanuel Villaume. All of these forces will reprise their roles in this season’s limited engagement. Baritone Nmon Ford will reprise the uncompromising rake, Don Giovanni, fully conveying the darkest corners of his character. With a voice strongly contrasting Ford’s, bass-baritone Brian Banion will make a fine Leporello. Singing the brutally raped Donna Anna will be soprano Joana Gedmintaite, and the hapless enabler, Donna Elvira, will be portrayed by soprano Ellie Dehn. The solidly-focused voice and frisky stage presence of soprano Monica Yunus will be welcome in the role of Zerlina. Baritone Keith Phares’ quick wits and physical strength will make the role of her fiancé, Masetto, more interesting than usual. As the cautious Don Ottavio, tenor Mark Thomsen will sing with more virility than is often displayed, making for less of a “God help us” in that thankless role.
The ever-reliable Bank of America Chamber Music series with Charles Wadsworth, featuring eleven programs repeated three times, is the heart of the festival for many. Weekend concerts often sell out early. Since this is the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, every program will feature one of his works. The St. Lawrence String Quartet returns as quartet-in-residence. This will be one of the last chances to hear founding second violinist Barry Shiffman, who will leave the quartet in the fall to become director of the Banff International String Quartet Competition. Old hands returning are clarinetist Todd Palmer, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, violinists Chee-Yun and Corey Cerovsek, violist Daniel Phillps, cellists Andrés Díaz and Alisa Weilerstein, and pianists Wendy Chen and Jeremy Denk. Also appearing will be harpist Catrin Finch and, as composer-in-residence, Kenji Bunch, who will have a work premiered during the series. As usual, programming and artists are announced on a chalk board in the Dock Street Theatre lobby on the day of the performance. Chee-Yun will be at the festival May 29 – June 4.
There will be two orchestral concerts. In Gaillard Auditorium, Emmanuel Villaume will lead the ardent young players of the Spoleto Festival Orchestra in a program consisting of Strauss’s “Don Juan” and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. In the Sottile Theatre, Villaume will direct Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and the Love Scene from Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette.
Music in Time will feature the most adventurous programming – a playful round for two groups of eight strings by Osvaldo Golijov, the American premiere of Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky’s Hearing Solution, the world premiere of series founder and director John Kennedy’s Spoletude I, and Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 3. The first three of the 5 p.m. concerts will be given in the Recital Hall in the Emmett Robinson Theatre, and the final concert, in Grace Episcopal Church.
The Intermezzi series will present six concerts in Grace Episcopal Church, ranging from piano concerti by Haydn and Mozart to Gounod’s delightful Petite Symphonie for Winds.
The Westminster Choir will present two performances in the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul. This year these will be conducted by the acclaimed English choral conductor Tim Brown, of Clare College in Cambridge, England.
Long-time director Joseph Flummerfelt, Spoleto Artistic Director for Choral Activities will lead a substantial program consisting of Brahms’ “Alto Rhapsody,” arias from Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi and Rossini’s Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra, and Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor. The featured soloist will be mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore, who first came to Spoleto as a member of Flummerfelt’s Westminster Choir. The current edition of the choir will join the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Spoleto Festival Orchestra for the performance.
The Theater series will feature the Cornwall-based Kneehigh Theatre’s production of Tristan & Yseult, directed by Emma Rice; this show recently completed a sold-out run at London’s National Theatre. There will be 18 performances in the Dock street Theatre.
The world premiere of Geisha, directed by Singaporean Ong Keng Sen (who produced Silver River at the 2000 Spoleto Festival), will take place in the Emmett Robinson Theatre. The legendary Japanese kabuki performer Gojo Masanosuke will perform opposite the versatile African-American actress Karen Kandel, joined by Kineya Katsumatsu, a traditional shamisen musician.
Check the festival website for more information, including details of dance and jazz offerings.
William Thomas Walker
Note 1: The City of Charleston presents concurrent programming under the banner of “Piccolo Spoleto.” The url is likely to be the same as last year’s, when it is updated – http://www.piccolospoleto.com/home/default.aspx.
Note 2: CVNC has covered Spoleto & Piccolo Spoleto events since 2001. See our annual archives and search on “Spoleto” for back copy.