Charleston a focus of fortieth season of US Spoleto Festival

By Bruce Smith, AP

CHARLESTON, South Carolina–Historic Charleston in the southeastern U.S. state of South Carolina is a large focus of this spring’s 40th edition of the Spoleto Festival USA, from glimpses of the city in the iconic opera “Porgy and Bess” to the tragedy of the Emanuel AME Church shootings.

The lineup for the internationally known arts festival that runs from May 27 through June 12 was unveiled on Sunday.

It features Spoleto’s first production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” the famed opera about Charleston and its people based on the novel by Charleston native DuBose Heyward. The production is being designed by Jonathan Green, the local artist known worldwide for his colorful paintings of black residents of the sea islands on the southeast coast.

The opera will be Spoleto’s first production in the Gaillard Center, the city’s new US$142 million performing arts center that opened last fall. The center is the single most expensive municipal project in the city’s almost 350-year history.

The festival also features a multimedia project by artist Carrie Mae Weems entitled “Grace Notes: Reflections for Now.” The production incudes songs, texts, spoken words and video projections raising questions about the role of grace in a democracy.

It was inspired in part by President Barack Obama singing “Amazing Grace” during his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine people shot and killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last June. A white man has been charged with murder and other counts in the case.

Jazz singer Rene Marie will also include a song, “Be the Change,” during her May 29 concert at the Gaillard Center. The song was commissioned by the festival and inspired by the community’s show of unity in the aftermath of the shootings. After the tragedy, thousands of people gathered on the sweeping Ravenel Bridge to remember the victims.

Nigel Redden, the festival’s general director, said in a statement that Spoleto has long called Charleston home and “wanted to provide an outlet for these reactions to demonstrate how art can help people heal as well as provide an important voice in times when it can be difficult to find words.”

The festival also is presenting “Afram or Swita the Beauty” by Charleston-born composer Edmund Thorton Jenkins 90 years after his death. It’s thought to be the first time it’s been performed and is being staged as a cabaret review with dance and songs.