2019's Salome is among the latest operas performed at Spoleto Festival USA | Credit: Leigh Webber

Spoleto Festival USA will feature three operas, two brand new, in 2022 as it charts a new era with a new general director. With Mena Mark Hanna taking over for longtime director Nigel Redden, Spoleto will inaugurate its first full-scale festival since 2019 when it opens May 27, 2022, running through June 12.

Rhiannon Giddens is one of the notable composers of Omar | Credit: Ebru Yildiz

Originally announced for the lost 2020 festival, Omar will finally make its bow in 2022 — based on the 1831 autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim scholar from Africa who was forced into slavery in the Carolinas. Sold in Charleston before escaping and being recaptured in North Carolina, Said’s story is the only surviving slave autobiography in Arabic, which preserved it from editing. Composed by award-winning musicians Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels, Omar will finally take its place as the centerpiece of next year’s season.

Karim Sulayman’s Unholy Wars will get its world premiere at Spoleto in 2022 | Credit: Jon Wes

Also announced for a world premiere at the 2022 festival is Unholy Wars, a collection of new work conceived and performed by Karim Sulayman. The Grammy Award-winning tenor will bring together songs from the early Baroque period to craft a compelling story of the Crusades. The pieces, performed from “from a contemporary Arab American perspective,” seek to shift thinking about Western opera and explore its relationship to the Middle East. 

Rounding out the robust opera slate is a new production of La bohème. Directed by Yuval Sharon, Michigan Opera Theatre’s new artistic director, this production comes to Charleston after a run in Detroit. Sharon has staged this production of Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece in reverse order, starting with Act IV and ending with Act I, as a way of inverting the show’s themes.

“This season, Spoleto is purposefully expanding the traditional opera canon,” said Hanna in a press release. “Each production, in its own way, rethinks the standard practice and repertoire of opera, questioning how it has traditionally been performed and what it can mean today.”

With a virtual discussion series also planned to address the connections of these pieces to religion, education, social justice and identity politics, Spoleto Festival 2022 is shaping up to have some exciting and deeply thoughtful works on its slate. After a smaller, social-distanced 2021, Spoleto Festival USA looks to enter season 46 with, perhaps the biggest festival in its history.

The full Spoleto schedule will be announced Feb. 11, 2022, with tickets available Feb. 22, 2022.