The Dock Street Theatre is said to be haunted by the ghosts of recidivist actors, whispering ushers, and wailing, gnashing directors. With a legacy dating back to the 1730s, it's had plenty of time to rack up the specters. More recently, the theater has been closed for a two-year, $20 million renovation. It will reopen just in time for the Spoleto Festival USA 2010.
"It's a very big deal," says Paula Edwards, Spoleto's director of marketing and public relations. "It's one of our primary venues. The Chamber Music Series is going back in there and Gate Theatre is returning to perform there." Ireland's Gate Theatre was last here with The Constant Wife. This year it will perform Present Laughter, a Noel Coward comedy.
One of Dock Street's earliest productions was Flora, the first ballad opera performed in colonial America. Overshadowed by The Beggar's Opera and out of print since the 1850s, Flora is being revived for the 2010 festival. Adaptor/conductor Neely Bruce has pieced together the surviving 18 pages of music so that Flora can be mounted here. The ballad opera takes folk tunes and popular love songs of its time and adds lyrics pertinent to the story.
Proserpina, a Wolfgang Rihm opera, will be directed by Ken Rus Schmoll. John Kennedy will conduct the Spoleto festival USA Orchestra. "Goethe's Persephone poem is filled with Sturm und Drang — in fact it defined it," says Festival Director Nigel Redden. "In this particular interpretation, the fates' commentary — basically, tough luck — is made wonderfully beautiful with Rihm's music." With a heroine fighting against the enticements of glamour and overwhelming emotion, the opera should appeal to audiences of various ages, from goth teens to faded beauties.
Philemon and Baucis shows yet another side of opera. It's produced by the Colla Marionette Company and was composed by Franz Joseph Haydn specifically for marionettes in 1773. Although Haydn created a handful of puppet operas, most have been lost over years. According to Edwards, this one has only been performed once before in the States.
A something-for-everyone approach extends to dance as well. "Our program's always bold, going from one end of the spectrum to the other," says Edwards. The traditional storybook ballet Giselle from the National Ballet of Georgia will feature prima ballerina Nina Ananiashvili.
The Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo is an all-male troupe executing female ballet steps in Go for Barocco. Although they weigh twice as much as ballerinas, the mood is light. "It's not mockery of dance," Edwards emphasizes. "It's technically impressive, and it accentuates the fun elements of the piece."
Solo shows include Erik Friedlander's anecdotal play Block Ice & Propane and Daniel McIvor's U.S. premiere of This Is What Happens Next. The Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra will perform renowned works like Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, Maurice Ravel's La Valse, and Richard Wagner's non-operatic Siegfried Idyll. The Westminster Choir will wrap their lungs around Mozart, Brahms, and Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The Ebony Hillbillies and the Carolina Chocolate Drops will both bring their popular brand of string-band music to Charleston. Germany's Die Roten Punkte promise to rock the Emmett Robinson with their late-night theatrical show that's more punk than plot.
Building on these highlights, the festival organizers have put together a program aimed to satisfy any attendee. There's even a visual arts quotient, something that's been missing from the main festival for years, if only through a partnership with the Gibbes Museum and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. The mix of old and new arts should be enough to invigorate a few Dock Street ghosts, and encourage live audiences to haunt Charleston's entertainment venues this summer.