by John Stoehr
What was it? The official opening ceremony today at noon of the 33rd annual Spoleto Festival USA. The site was the steps of City Hall on Broad Street. Present were people from the festival's board of directors, Mayor Joe Riley, Charles Wadsworth, director of chamber music, and Jane Alexander, an actress who got her start at Spoleto and a former director of the National Endowment for the Art. The mood was reflective, as this is the last year for Wadsworth, one of the founding directors of the festival. He turns 80 this year.
What happened? After the slowest prayer on earth delivered by the Abbot of Mepkin Abbey, we got a lot of thank yous and pats on the back from the dignitaries. There were plugs for upcoming performances like the opera Louise and the theater show Don John. There was recognition of Eric Friberg, a recent board chair who died suddenly in December. We also listened to a heartfelt speech from Riley about his long friendship with Wadsworth and an anecdote that illustrated the turning point in the festival. The sudden departure of Gian Carlo Menotti put a wedge between people who loved Charleston and Spoleto, Italy, equally. Wadsworth chose Charleston. "Our artistic credibility was at stake," Riley said. "If we lost them both, the festival couldn't survive."
Any news? The Mayor also announced that the drawing room at the Dock Street Theatre, where Wadsworth spent so much time, will be named in honor, and the 17 days of Spoleto will now be recognized by future majors as Wadsworth Days. Riley also slyly tucked into the end of his speech how it was time to start raising money for the renovation of the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. He didn't provide details. Nor did he the last time he mentioned renovating the old concert hall during the State of the City address earlier this year. "We have a lot of money to raise, but it's about time," Riley says, almost as an aside. "Our community deserves it."
The takeaway? A performance by 40 trombones playing "76 Trombones." It was a nice send off. Also noteworthy were the many fans of Charles Wadsworth waving signs with a black-and-white picture of his face on them. It was a touching show of warmth and affection. -JS