Spoleto Festival USA – Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.A.
An Eclectic All-Purpose Arts Explosion
Founded as the American counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy, Spoleto Festival USA has grown over its twenty-six-year history to become a well-entrenched feature of the American cultural landscape, presenting a diverse mix of world-class performers in opera, dance, theater, and music, and frequently hosting American and world premieres.
Founded in 1977 by the American-born composer Gian Carlo Menotti, the festival has done much to revitalize the cultural scene of its home city (which, in 1735, was the first American city to stage an opera), and today takes over utterly each year, offering productions of music, dance, and theater at a dozen principal venues (all within easy walking distance of each other) as well as at every street corner, garden, church, concert hall, and park. The festival’s more spirited and irreverent spinoff, Piccolo Spoleto, offers some 700 events of its own, most of them inexpensive or free.
The Festival Finale takes place under stars and fireworks at the 18th-century Middleton Place plantation, 14 miles from Charleston, on the Ashley River. It is tradition for concert-goers to lavish time and money on picnic dinners for the event (local celebrity judges wander from blanket to blanket awarding prizes), and many arrive early to enjoy America’s first landscaped gardens, laid out in 1741.