Spoleto 2022: Past, present and future
“We’re extremely excited. We’re so fired up to have this finally happen.” That’s the sentiment that Mena Mark Hanna, the new general director of Spoleto Festival USA, is carrying into the 2022 season, which kicks off May 27 and runs through June 12. After 2021’s smaller pandemic edition, and no edition in 2020, Spoleto Festival USA is looking to get back on track in 2022 with a program populated by some of the best artists in the world.
It’s taken tremendous work, planning and logistics to get to this point. Some shows that were originally scheduled for this year (Meow Meow, Moby Dick) have unfortunately been pulled or adjusted. The global pandemic that canceled the 2020 festival and shaped the entirety of 2021 is still ongoing. Inflation has affected production costs. And there’s a shortage of skilled stage labor, as the extended time away from live performance drove many to the world of film. Despite these hurdles though, Spoleto Festival USA has managed to produce several works to debut this year in Charleston.
Omar finally takes center stage
Omar is Spoleto’s centerpiece production. The opera tells the story of Omar Ibn Said, an African scholar who was enslaved in the Carolinas. “Omar has been on such a journey through the pandemic,” said Hanna.
The opera has been in the works for over two years. The original performance by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels was supposed to debut during the 2020 season, with an entire festival slate built around its themes and influences. Not only does this highly anticipated opera finally open on May 27, but Giddens will perform a one-night concert with Francesco Turrisi on May 28, another holdover from the lost 2020 festival.
Omar’s themes continue to influence this year’s festival and have lost none of their timeliness. “That piece in particular in 2020, it takes on a completely different significance now in 2022,” said Hanna. “There is something about going through the convulsion of the pandemic, the ongoing divisions in our society along racial and equity lines and understanding Omar as not really something that is historic but something wherein our history bleeds into our present.”
History is a big theme throughout the festival this year. At nearly 130 years old, La bohème has been a staple of the opera canon since it first opened. This year’s Spoleto production, first mounted in Chicago, will shake things up when it opens on May 28 by presenting the acts in reverse order. Unholy Wars, opening on May 29, will look at the Crusades through a Muslim lens.
Something for everyone
While the operas are the power trio of this year’s festival, there are plenty of fantastic works for fans of other disciplines. Spoleto 2022 boasts more than 120 performances, a big departure from last year’s conservative offering of around 45.
Hanna, excited to work his first Spoleto from the big seat, points to POWER by Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group as the kind of show he hopes audiences will turn out for. Running just two performances May 28-29, POWER explores the history of African American Shaker communities through dance.
“I love Reggie Wilson because he brings to his work a kind of scholarly methodology,” said Hanna. “Understanding our origin points, understanding what our past is, and sort of trying to shed new light on that past so that we can have a newness and comprehension of our present that we didn’t have before we took our seats.”
Theater lovers have much to rejoice in after last year’s thin offerings. Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe’s The Approach brings deep human connections to the Dock Street Theatre starting May 26. Dael Orlandersmith brings her one-woman show Until the Flood to Festival Hall on June 3, playing eight distinct characters reacting to a national emergency. Musical sensation Storm Large will do a cabaret show at Festival Hall starting May 26 that mixes songs and sensuality. And starting June 8, Machine de Cirque will thrill audiences with live music and astounding physical theater feats.
Inspired by last year’s Ballet Under the Stars, Ballet Encore will bring together many of the best dancers from New York City to create an exciting program starting June 1. This collection of dancers includes South Carolina-born Sara Mearns, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. Malpaso Dance Company, whose show at the Sottile Theatre starts June 10, comes all the way from Cuba with a show the LA Times calls “a pinch-me moment, one of those times when you catch an artistic dawning.”
Unlike last year, you can still get tickets to the always-popular Bank of America Chamber Music series. But like last year, you can still catch the recorded concerts at 11 a.m., weekdays, on South Carolina Public Radio during the “Sonatas and Soundscapes” broadcast. Those start May 27 at the Dock Street Theatre and run through the entire festival.
There’s more music to be found in a collection of one-off performances: Fast-fingered Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway on June 9; Beloved The War and Treaty on June 2; Grammy-nominated soulful singer Allison Russel on June 1; Grammy-winning MacArthur Fellow Cécile McLorin Salvant on June 10. Catch Tyshawn Sorey perform with Aaron Diehl and Matt Brewer in a jazz-trio show on June 4 and again with the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra in a show dedicated to Sorey’s work on June 6.
Nduduzo Makhathini brings spirituality on May 30 in an improvisational piano show influenced by his South African heritage and career as a Zulu healer. Youssou NDOUR: Mbalax Unplugged on May 29 is sure to be an acoustic dream. NDOUR is famous to music lovers for his work on Peter Gabriel’s 1986 “In Your Eyes” and his status as a TIME 100 icon.
Ravi Coltrane: Universal Consciousness pays tribute to the artist’s mother on June 3. Alice Coltrane, accomplished keyboardist, harpist and singer, inspires the saxophone selections of Ravi’s show. On June 7, The Street will showcase harpist Parker Ramsay, backed by voices from the Spoleto Festival USA Chorus. Guitarist Linda May Han Oh and pianist Fabian Almazan buck trends by having a longer run than most other musical offerings, from June 2-6.
It’s a stacked slate. Spoleto Festival USA is sending the message that the festival, sidelined and shortened over the past two years, is back and better than ever.
Note that masks will be required for Spoleto indoor performances. Proof of vaccinations will not be required. For more information, visit spoletousa.org/covid-19-policies-and-updates.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.