For fans of the performing arts, the arrival of spring in Charleston can mean only one thing: Spoleto!
Now in its 42nd year, Spoleto Festival USA will once again descend upon Charleston with a wide selection of artistic talent in tow to perform at the city’s most historic venues. The festival kicks of on May 25 and lasts through June 10, promising 17 days and 17 nights of enchanting performances in dance, theatre, music, and much more.
The only question is: Are you ready for Spoleto 2018?
Our Insider’s Guide to Spoleto covers the history of the annual performing arts festival and highlights some notable premiers and fan favorites. It’s worth a read if this is your first time visiting Charleston or attending the Spoleto Festival.
But now let’s turn our attention to Spoleto Festival USA 2018. What does this year’s lineup look like? Which events are not to be missed? We’ve got the scoop you need before you attend Charleston’s much-anticipated annual Spoleto Festival!
Opening Night Fete
Spoleto kicks off with the Opening Night Fete, a celebration of the start of the festival complete with scrumptious tropical food, refreshing cocktails and live music. The event will take place in historic downtown Charleston (location to be revealed later) right after the performance of Celebration: The Art of the Pas de Deux by the Miami City Ballet.
This is a festive event, so dress in style and be prepared to dance and dine the night away. Get your tickets while you still can!
Pia de Tolomei
This year’s Spoleto Festival has an exciting lineup of three operas, two of which are U.S. premieres. One of the exciting performances never before staged in the U.S. is none other than Donizetti’s 19th century opera Pia de Tolomei.
The tragic opera, which first premiered in Italy, is centered around Pia, a character from Dante’s Divine Comedy who was poisoned by her husband after he suspected her of cheating on him. Pia de Tolomei will be performed five times at this year’s Spoleto Festival USA.
The production was co-produced by Spoleto Festival USA Teatro di Pisa, Teatro del Giglio di Lucca and Teatro Goldoni di Livorno. Lovers of tragic opera will enjoy the suspenseful plot, breathtaking sets and dramatic score.
Tree of Codes
Tree of Codes is another opera making its U.S. premiere at Spoleto Festival USA. Inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s book of the same name, this dramatic work takes audiences on a journey through multiple realities.
The mind-bending production first premiered in Germany in 2016. Composed by Liza Lim, conducted by John Kennedy and directed by Ong Keng Seng, Tree of Codes ponders existential questions and seeks answers to the questions: What is authentic? What is fake?
Take in the contemporary performance at Dock Street Theatre on May 26 and be prepared to explore the space between memories and dreams, past and future.
Jazzmeia Horn is a rising star and Grammy-nominated singer who has been captivating international audiences with her powerful vocal skills and artistic talent.
In fact, you might have heard Jazzmeia Horn if you watched gold medalist Alina Zagitova’s exhibition gala performance during the 2018 Winter Olympics. The Russian figure skater used Horn’s “Afro Blue” as the score for her performance, increasing the American jazz singer’s global recognition.
Horn is set to perform at the Gaillard on May 28, where she is sure to delight both old-school jazz lovers and contemporary jazz fans. With her rising stardom, you won’t want to miss your chance to see her live in Charleston.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
Marc and Bella Chagall’s enduring love is forever displayed on canvas as they fly together without a care in the world. But despite being one of the greatest love stories in art history, the Chagalls lived in turbulent times.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk dramatizes the lives of the Chagalls as they navigate World War II, the Russian Revolution and their own relationship. Winner of the 2017 Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award, it is a magical performance that should not be missed. Catch the production at the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston.
Fans of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert will instantly recognize Jon Batiste, the gifted leader of the house band for Colbert’s show. Before he landed this high-profile gig, the Julliard-educated musician and New Orleans native was well known in jazz circles.
Although Batiste comes from a prominent jazz family, the multi-faceted musician made a name for himself with his innovative and soulful performances. Batiste is doing his part to bring jazz to the masses with his dandy Southern style and infectious enthusiasm.
Batiste’s exuberant charisma and musical talent are the perfect mix to kick off Spoleto Festival USA this year. Joined by the Brooklyn-based Dap-Kings, he will perform at the College of Charleston Cistern Yard on Friday, May 25.
Seasoned festivalgoers may remember the production of Delta to Dusk in 2014, performed by the Dorrance Dance troupe at Memminger Auditorium. Michelle Dorrance, the genius behind that production, is returning once again to Memminger Auditorium with another delightfully innovative program.
The tap dancing dynamo and skilled choreographer is known for her brilliant choreography and creative collaborations with other artists. This year, four dynamic performances, all brimming with electricity, will absolutely wow you. Perhaps one of the most highly anticipated of Dorrance’s productions is EMT: Double Down, in which dancers perform on electronic floorboards to manipulate sound.
However, Three to One, Jungle Blues and Myelination each demonstrate the brilliance and creativity that audiences have come to expect from this Dorrance. Get your tickets now because these shows are going to be hot this year!
Abraham in Motion
Abraham.In.Motion (A.I.M.) made its Spoleto debut in 2012 with The Radio Show, and festival fans have been eager for more thought-provoking performances from this contemporary dance company. Founded by Kyle Abraham in 2006, A.I.M. is back once again with two new works: Drive and Dearest Home.
Both works meet the high expectations audiences have come to have for the troupe. His emotionally charged choreography has earned him the Bessie Award, a MacArthur Fellowship and the Creative Capital Award.
Abraham is known for not shying away from tough subject matter such as police brutality and mass incarceration. Dearest Home promises to deliver an emotional charge at Spoleto this year.
Henry Naylor’s play, Angel, was well received in 2017 and won numerous awards and acclaim. Now, the UK playwright is back with Borders, a visceral piece about the refugee crisis in Europe.
Perhaps one of the more highly anticipated performances in this year’s festival, the play is set in the Middle East and follows the separate lives of British photographer, Sebastian, and Syrian graffiti artist, Nameless. Their lives couldn’t be more different, but the two collide during the climax of the play in gripping fashion.
The play is bold, raw and dramatic. It isn’t surprising that Borders has already picked up prestigious awards as well, considering how Naylor manages to perfectly balance comedy with tragedy in his latest work.
For a Southern, soul-stirring performance, be sure to catch Ranky Tanky perform under live oaks at College of Charleston Cistern Yard. With their soulful blend of jazz, gospel and Gullah music, the South Carolina-based quintet strikes the perfect balance of Lowcountry tradition and contemporary sound.
Also, don’t miss the Front Row Talk called “Mining the Gullah Groove” at the Simons Center Recital Hall at College of Charleston. The conversation will feature members of Ranky Tanky and music critic Larry Blumenfield discussing Charleston’s Gullah Culture and its role in modern music.
Gravity & Other Myths, an Australian circus and theatre company, makes its return to Spoleto Festival USA this season with the U.S. premiere of Backbone. The contemporary theatre troupe dazzled festival goers in 2014 with A Simple Space, which featured a jaw-dropping display of acrobatic ability and teamwork skills.
Playful, highly talented and raw are just a few words often used to describe performances by world-class acrobats from Gravity & Other Myths. With excellent choreography and talented performers, festivalgoers can expect another astonishing experience at Memminger Auditorium.
Check Spoleto Festival USA’s website for specific show times and dates. The show will run from May 25 through May 30, so you will have plenty of chances to see Backbone in Charleston.
Brahm’s German Requiem
Fans of classical musical won’t want to miss Brahm’s German Requiem at the Gaillard Center, where the Westminster Choir, Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra will come together for an exhilarating performance.
Soprano Natalia Pavlova, who was praised for her performance in last year’s “Eugene Onegin,” will return to Spoleto Festival USA this year to sing the solos in Brahm’s Requiem.
Additionally, Pavlova will be interviewed in a “Conversations With” at the Charleston Library Society on June 3 at 5:00 p.m.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Carlo Colla & Sons Marionette Company, one of Italy’s oldest and most respected marionette companies, is a Spoleto regular, returning for a seventh time with another enchanting production.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin, a well-known Brothers Grimm fairy tale, will be performed in English at the Emmet Robinson Theatre at College of Charleston. The mythical legend will be told through traditional marionette-style puppetry.
In fact, there are over 400 puppets in the performance each handcrafted. Carlo Colla & Sons never fail to entertain with their stunning scenery, intricate puppets and magical storytelling. Their latest production is bound to captivate audiences.
Wells Fargo Festival Finale
Spoleto usually concludes at Middleton Place, but the venue has changed for this year’s Wells Fargo Festival Finale. Spoleto Festival USA has become so popular that it was forced to move its finale to Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park (known locally as “The Joe”) to accommodate its enormous growth.
While the venue has changed, you can count on the final event to bring the same fantastic festivities that Spoleto fans know and love. The headliner this year is Nashville-based The Lone Bellow, a magnetic folk-rock group that made a name for itself through recent shows across the country as the opening band for The Civil Wars.
The gates open at 5:30 June 10 and commence with the traditional display of fireworks. Grab your tickets in advance and enjoy the festivities!
The Stage is Set. Are You Ready?
Ballet, jazz, contemporary theatre — it’s all coming to downtown Charleston this spring. If you love the performing arts, the annual Spoleto Festival should not be missed.
This year’s festival is packed with talented performers from across the globe. No matter where they hail from, these talented artists will bring topnotch performances that will blow you away this spring.
Hotels fill up fast for Spoleto Festival USA. If you need assistance finding a rental property or want to explore Charleston’s best neighborhoods, we’d love to help!