by John Stoehr
First is some practical news. The Carolina Chocolate Drops have changed venues for two of their four gigs at Spoleto Festival in order to accommodate the mad rush to see them. They are the inheritors of African-American string music of the Piedmont. They were recently featured in Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters. Their 9 o'clock shows will be at the Cistern. Lots of seating. Tickets are a steal at $20. Call (843) 579-3100 or go to www.spoletousa.org.
In other news, Spoleto Festival USA is making nice again with his estranged sister in Spoleto, Italy. We reported all the good stuff here. The Italians wanted to make amends after Menotti left in a huff in 1993. Nigel Redden, director of the American festival, is evidently amenable to a mending between the two. All of which is good for Charleston, as it reinforces a relationship with the Old Country and raises the city's cultural profile as a place where high-caliber musicians can come with an the expectation of also playing in Europe. Good all around.
The biggest performance of Spoleto is without a doubt Monkey: Journey to the West, a collaboration between opera and film director Chen Shi-Zheng, former Blur and current Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn and designer and illustrator Jamie Hewlett, who does the Gorillaz animation. It's a visual spectacular par excellence that Chen calls a "circus opera," more or less because he doesn't know what else to call it. It features opera singer, dancers, acrobats, puppets, jugglers, and more.
It's about a magical monkey who makes a lot of mischief and wants enlightenment and immortality. He doesn't rest till the Big Buddha Guy steps in. Anyway, tickets we hear are selling very well, but that may mean you should hurry. Monkey gets its the American premiere and it's an event that may prove the beginning of a much bigger fascination with Chinese culture, similar to our love affair with Japanese culture over the past quarter century (I wonder what the Chinese equivalent of pocky is).