Spoleto Festival USA (Charleston, SC)


  A male performer with long hair, in a white long-sleve shirt holds an actress by the shoulders. She is singing and responds to the gesture by placing her hand on his

Adam Klein and Gwynne Geyer perform in a new production of Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos at the 2004 Spoleto Festival USA. Photo by William Struhs

Spoleto Festival USA was founded in 1977, with NEA support, by Gian Carlo Menotti, Christopher Keene, and others involved in the Festival of Two Worlds as the American counterpart to that festival held annually in Spoleto, Italy. Finding an American city that offered the charm of Spoleto, Spoleto Festival USA took up residence in Charleston, South Carolina, offering programs of dance, theater, opera, music, and the visual arts.


Legendary ballerina Nina Ananiashvili leads the Moscow Ballet Theatre in a special performance at the Spoleto Festival USA. Photo by Hidemi Sato

In FY 2004, Spoleto Festival USA received an NEA Creativity grant of $60,000 to support the 17-day festival from May 28 through June 13, 2004. The 2004 Spoleto Festival USA featured more than 130 performances of opera, theater, music, and dance from an international array of artists and companies, drawing record-breaking crowds of approximately 45,000 people.

A highlight of the festival was Chen Shi-Zheng’s complete 18 ½ hour production of The Peony Pavilion, a 55-scene Kunju opera, played in six sections with 22 actors taking multiple roles. The opera turned the Memminger Auditorium into a 16th century Chinese pavilion, complete with a 1,800-gallon pond stocked with fish and waterfowl.

Other musical highlights of the festival included a new production of Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos, a jazz concert by Dee Dee Bridgewater, and the Spoleto Festival Orchestra’s performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9.

Dance highlights included legendary ballerina Nina Ananiashvili and the Moscow Ballet Theatre, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, and David Gordon and his Pick Up Performance Company. The festival also included a theatrical production of Rezo Gabriadze’s play Forbidden Christmas, or the Doctor and the Patient, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov.

(From the 2004 NEA Annual Report)