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Spoleto Festival USA, the South’s great arts extravaganza that attracts a sizable annual contingent of Atlanta fans, will return to in-person performances on Memorial Day weekend and continue through June 13. The festival, Charleston’s unique contribution to the American cultural scene, announced today that it will feature more than 70 performances of music, dance and theater in three outdoor locations and inside the historic Dock Street Theatre.

While that might sound like a lot, it’s a considerable reduction in scale from a typical pre-COVID season. Earlier plans had been to feature the much-anticipated premiere of Omar, an opera by Rhiannon Giddens based on the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim scholar who lived in Senegal but was captured in 1807 and brought to Charleston as a slave. Bowing to pandemic realities, the festival has postponed Omar until next season. (This is the second postponement for Omar, originally planned for 2020.) Indeed, for the first time in its 45-year history, the festival be without staged opera, which presents unique challenges in the COVID era. Also missing from the roster are the celebrated Westminster Choir and the always excellent Festival Orchestra.  

But even with some necessary pandemic shrinkage, this is still Spoleto and this season packs enough punch to be worth the drive (or short flight), especially if you’re vaccinated and jonesing for a few days of live high-caliber, in-person entertainment. 

Spoleto’s acclaimed twice-daily chamber music concerts will take place, as usual, inside the Dock Street Theatre. This season, hosted by violinist Geoff Nuttall, will feature four world premieres, including a new work by Osvaldo Golijov performed by cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnaton, and an oboe piece by Siegfried Thiele, performed by James Austin Smith, for whom it was written. 

Two new outdoor venues are being built. The Charleston Visitors Center Bus Shed will be transformed each evening (after buses stop running at 5 p.m.) into a theater for The Woman in Black, a play adapted from Susan Hill’s acclaimed novel. The production, directed by Robin Herford, has been one of the longest-running plays in London’s West End. The other new stage, at the College of Charleston’s River Green, will support a trio of dance programs: Caleb Teicher & Company, Ephrat Asherie Dance and Ballet Under the Stars, a program featuring dancers from New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. 

The College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard will again be the location for jazz, including a special Charleston edition of Two Wings: The Music of Black America, which combines music and storytelling to explore the Great Migration, when roughly 6 million Black families fled racial violence in the South. Other jazz concerts will feature the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Cookers, Imani Winds and some unique collaborations of distinguished jazz artists. Another series will focus on Americana ensembles, including Steep Canyon Rangers, Atlanta’s Woods Brothers and Sarah Jarosz. 

This will be the final season for Nigel Redden, general director of the festival for 35 years. A virtual gala marking the occasion and featuring such longtime Spoleto artists as Laurie Anderson, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Bill T. Jones and Steve Reich will be available to watch free beginning June 13. 

Festival tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. April 13 on Spoleto’s website or by phone at 843.579.3100.

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