by John Stoehr
The two Spoletos have reunited. That's the message received today during the opening ceremonies of the 32nd Spoleto Festival USA. Mayor Joe Riley and Mayor Massimo Brunini, of Spoleto, Italy (pictured, from left) made it crystal clear — they were on message, as they say — that the two cities were reunited, and that the two festivals — Spoleto and the Festival of Two Worlds, both founded by Gian Carlos Menotti — are reunited.
There was a lot of talk about the cities similarities and how beautiful they are and how they are ideal locales for international arts festivals. Which is all true. But nothing was said about how and what and when these two festival would be working together – which, I suppose, is natural. These were opening ceremonies, after all. A time and place for pomp and pageantry, not wonkiness.
It's not a stretch to say that Joe Riley is an arts mayor. He's unique in his support of the arts and his belief in the benefits — economic impact, quality of life, national and international prestige — of the arts and of playing home to Spoleto Festival USA.
Nigel Redden's festival, especially in the wake of Menotti's departure in 1993, which could have undermined the whole enterprise, might be what it is without Riley's imprimatur, but the festival's character, nature, and scope might be a lot different from what it is now. I'm sure many people in many parts of the city have things to say about Riley, but what's certain is that a strong point of view and sustained leadership (he's been mayor since 1976) has had a tremendous affect on Spoleto's history.
After the explosion of confetti and performances by Monkey acrobats, I tried ask Redden, Spoleto executive director, a few questions. He had to run before I could ask about the particulars of the renewed partnership, which so far include a conducting engagement by music director Emmanuel Villaume at the Festival of Two Worlds Foundation later this year and discussions about a shared opera productions in the future. So far, though, there is no time table even about what production might be share, much less how it would shared. I've been promised phone time with Redden to see what I can find out.
UPDATE: Perhaps more interesting than the reunited Spoleto Festivals is the new partnerships between the two city governments. If this is taken seriously, a renewed partnership could have impact and ramification beyond the festival — in tourism, commerce, culture, and so on. It's been said many times over that the arts carry on when the festival is over. There are artists as work here year-round. What can a Charleston-Spoleto allegiance do for the arts community and what can the arts community — our talented and smart and gifted who would like to stay and build in Charleston — do for that allegiance?