New season of Spoleto Festival USA opens Friday

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - The new season of the Spoleto Festival USA lights up stages across Charleston beginning on Friday. Here’s a guide to this year’s edition of the internationally known arts festival.

A bit of history

- Spoleto was founded in Charleston in 1977 by the renowned composer Gian Carlo Menotti, modeled after and as a companion to his Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. Menotti left the Charleston festival in 1993 in a dispute over his successor. He died in 2007 at age 95.

Lots to see

- This year marks Spoleto’s 38th season and features 148 performances by 63 artists and ensembles. Spoleto opens with the traditional speeches, brass fanfare and shower of confetti outside City Hall in Charleston’s historic district on Friday, May 23. It concludes on June 8th with a concert followed by fireworks at Middleton Place Plantation. This year’s finale features Shovels & Rope, a Charleston duo whose Americana music is gaining them a national following.

What it’s about

- Last year’s Spoleto attracted visitors from 48 states and 18 foreign countries. “One of the things that means is that we need to have something that is special and unique that they won’t be able to find anywhere else,” says General Director Nigel Redden.

Speaking of music

- Opera has always been the centerpiece of Spoleto. This year there are three, including John Adams’ “El Nino,” which tells the nativity story drawing on the Bible, European writings and sermons and Latin American poetry. Composer Michael Nyman, who wrote the score for the film “The Piano,” has recomposed much of the score for the American premiere of the opera “Facing Goya.” The third opera is “Kat’a Kabanova” with Tony Award-winner Garry Hynes directing her first opera.

There is also theater:

-Stage offerings include Ireland’s Gate Theatre’s return to Spoleto performing the whodunit “My Cousin Rachel.” Actor and director Ravi Jain appears with his mother in “A Brimful of Asha,” a theater piece about arranged marriage and searching for the perfect bride.

And more music:

Spoleto also offers the popular chamber music concerts, which traditionally sell out, and orchestral and choir concerts. The jazz lineup this year features singer René Marie. Other musical performances include singer Kat Edmonson and banjoists Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn.

Talk a walk in the garden:

Those attending the festival can again purchase tickets to walk though Charleston’s private gardens that most visitors can only glimpse over brick walls or through iron gates. On each of two Saturdays during the festival, visitors can visit eight gardens on self-guided tours.

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