Lost in translation

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Spoleto’s Opening Ceremony was back at City Hall today after having been held the last two years up the street at the Old Exchange building, a location it’s no secret this Spoleto critic preferred. But I wasn’t complaining, since St. Michael’s Church provides a lot more shade from the noonday sun than the scattered palmetto trees did down the block. A big crowd gathered in front of the newly restored building, maybe hoping to see something as curious as composer Philip Glass’ automobiles-as-instruments Car-illon Fanfare that festival organizers sprung on the unsuspecting crowd last year. No such spectacle appeared, though the ceremony wasn’t completely without surprises.

The biggest one, you’ve probably heard by now, is that the talk of rejoining Spoleto Festival USA with its birth mother in Spoleto, Italy, now seems to be much more than just talk. Back in the 70s and 80s, after our own 17 days with Spoleto had concluded, organizers would pack up much of the artistic program and ship it off to Umbria, where it would reappear in the little hill town that is Spoleto’s namesake. (Hence Spoleto’s original subtitle the Festival of Two Worlds). The two festivals split 14 years ago when Spoleto founder Gian Carlo Menotti, having had enough of our guff, swept up his marbles and left for good. Since Menotti’s death three months ago, there’s been a good deal of chatter about reconjoining the twins, previously impossible because of the limitations of medical science and inflated egos.

Spoleto board prez Eric Freiberg lavished praise on Menotti, which seemed just. Faustus tenor John Hancock (yes, really) sang the Italian national anthem as though it was his last, and once Spoleto mayor Massimo Brunini took to the podium, an announcement of some sort seemed imminent. He said a great deal about his desire to see Charleston and Spoleto exchanging not just culture but ideas and people, too (and, one assumes, cash, given how much more humongous Spoleto Festival USA is these days than its Italian counterpart). When Mayor Riley finally addressed the issue, it wasn’t exactly an official announcement that came out – it doesn’t even appear in the photocopies of his speech that mayoral flunkies were handing out -- but it was awfully close. The upshot: expect to hear a lot more Italian around festival time next year.

The ceremonies closed with an energetic performance from two members of hip-hop inspired Rubberbandance Group – an early festival ticket that’s selling out fast, apparently. I videotaped some of it, but this blogger’s skill with a videocamera is about on a par with his skill with break-dancing. When and if I get the footage up here, don’t expect anything Kubrickian (for that, go see Major Bang: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb.)

It's worth noting that I caught the first Chamber Music program right after the opening ceremony, and for the first time in five years not a single cellphone rang during the concert. The program's high point: soprano Courtenay Budd performing a witty aria from Mennotti's operetta The Telephone, for which she sang the entire piece into – oh, the irony – a cellphone. For the full 411 on the concert, as well as all things musical during the festival, check out sister City Paper blog Eargasms, written by CP music critic Lindsay Koob, who knows of what he speaks.

Tonight, it's The Constant Wife (chatter after last night's preview: four and a half stars), followed by elbow-rubbing with the silver-spoon set  at the annual Bedon's Alley party, at which the Dom Perignon is said to flow like beer. I just hope they have pigs-in-a-blanket.

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