29th Spoleto Festival USA Opens May 27
The Spoleto Festival USA, which opens Friday May 27, promises to be one of the most exciting and interesting to date in the event’s 29 years to date. Running through Sunday June 12, this world-class arts festival features a broad range of performances – chamber music, choral music, dance, drama, jazz, opera, and symphonic concerts – and the visual arts. With two American premieres and a radical restaging of a classic, opera ought to generate a lot of enthusiasm and probably controversy.
Fans of traditional staging may want to be wary of German Director Günter Krämer’s approach to Mozart’s Don Giovanni. His concept is “an environmental theatrical experience.” Historic Memminger Auditorium is being transformed into “a park-like setting, complete with a lake, waterfall, and cherry trees, with the audience seated on the perimeter.” This means that there is a substantial reduction in seating The opera is now sold out. Do not despair; returned tickets are often sold at the door an hour before performances. Patrons with extra tickets also hawk them at the door. (“Scalping” has been rare in the past.) It will be interesting to see if this turns out to be the “talk of the street,” a “must see event,” or an abysmal failure. The set designer is Ulrich Schulz, and the costume designer is Falk Bauer. Baritone Nmon Ford will star as Don Giovanni. (CVNC reviewed his solid Kurwenal in the Virginia Opera’s Tristan und Isolde.) According a the March 31 press release, the Leporello will be sung by baritone Joan Martin-Royo, Donna Anna will be sung by Joana Gedmintaite, and Donna Elvira will be sung by Ellie Dehn. Spoleto USA’s Music Director Emmanuel Villaume will conduct.
Composer Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) described his opera Die Vögel (The Birds) as an “airy play of the imagination, remembering that everything here is a game, a metaphor.” The opera is an adaptation of Aristophanes’ satirical play in which two friends, alienated from life on earth, persuade the birds to build a citadel between heaven and Earth to trick the gods. In New Grove II, Erik Levi praises the opera for its “mixture of brilliant characterization, effortless melodiousness, and subtle formal control.” Listeners ought to find his unique blending of elements of the styles of Wagner, Strauss, and Berlioz a welcome balm for the ears. Braunfels was anti-Nazi and half Jewish. While he was removed from his post as co-director of the Cologne Hochschule für Musik in 1933, he managed to survive self-imposed exile within Germany. Baritone Krassen Karagiozov, a Fletcher Scholar at the NCSA, will sing the Raven, Loyal Friend will be sung by Dale Travis, Good Hope will be sung by Roy Cornelius Smith, Nightingale will be sung by Youngok Shin, and Hoopoe, the king of the birds, will be sung by Weston Hurt. The Stage Director is Jonathan Eaton and the Stage Designer is Danila Korogodsky. Veteran conductor Julius Rudel will lead the Spoleto Festival Orchestra. Performances will be in the Recital Hall of the Albert Simons Center on the College of Charleston campus.
Ottorino Respighi composed La bella dormente nel bosco (Sleeping Beauty) (1922) for Vittorio Podrecca’s renowned puppet theater troupe. American director/puppeteer Basil Twist will stage a new production in the Dock Street Theater, at the corner of Church and Queen Streets. Conductor Neal Goren will direct a cast of seven singers including Russian soprano Olga Makarina and tenor Eduardo Valdes (both veterans of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City) along with a choir and orchestra in the pit. Twist’s twelve puppeteers will weave their magic with the marionettes on stage.
The always-dependable backbone of the festival is Charles Wadsworth’s chamber music series, offering three performances each of eleven programs. Unusual works and rare instrumental combinations add spice to a menu of chestnuts. This critic welcomes a more-frequent-than-usual sampling from the French repertory. Long-time favorite performers returning this year are the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the irrepressible clarinetist Todd Palmer, flutist Tara O’Conner, the gorgeous Chee-Yun and the sprightly Corey Cerovsek, both extraordinary violinists, violist Daniel Phillips, cellists Andrés Díaz and Alisa Weilerstein, and pianists Wendy Chen and Jeremy Denk. For the second year since Menotti’s complete split with the Festival in 1993, flutist Paula Robison, long-time co-director of the chamber music series in the late ’70’s and the ’80’s, will return. Weekend concerts often sell out, but check at the door for late turn-ins.
This year’s Festival Concert will not lack for substance. The June 5 concert in Gaillard Municipal Auditorium will feature the world premiere of a work commissioned from John Kennedy, director of the Festival’s avant-garde music series, Music in Time. Pianist Andrew von Oeyen will be the soloist for Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto. A performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring will add to the sense of occasion. Festival Music Director Emmanuel Villaume will lead the enthusiastic and unjaded musicians of the Spoleto Festival Orchestra.
Five afternoon Intermezzi Concerts will cover a wide range of unusual works and forms. The June 3 concert features Schoenberg the transcriber, with his arrangement of Strauss’ “Emperor Waltz,” and Schoenberg the composer, with his seminal Chamber Symphony No. 1. A performance of Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” completes the program. Pianist Olivier Reboul plays the complete Chopin Études on June 5, while the June 7 concert features a song recital by Philippe Castagner. More conventional fare is planned for the May 30 and June 10 concerts.
The Westminster Choir has long been a Festival favorite, and its two largely a cappella programs in the Cathedral of Saint Luke and Saint Paul, on June 2 and June 9, are likely sell-outs, but seats with hampered sight-lines may be available. (Charleston churches have lots of columns.) The June 8 choral/orchestral program in Gaillard Municipal Auditorium returns to standard fare with Brahms’ German Requiem.
Check the Spoleto Festival USA website for more information and descriptions of the numerous dance, drama, and jazz performances and visual arts events. Bask in the delights of exploring a wonderfully human-scaled historic city while trying to choose from a huge arts menu. There is a fine walking guide to the city with planned routes and estimated time needed. The City of Charleston’s own Piccolo Spoleto Festival has its schedule posted online. A plethora a regional artists and events compliment the Spoleto Festival USA.
William Thomas Walker