Spoleto USA’s General Director Nigel Redden gave us a candid interview last week, recounting his personal ups and downs as well as the challenges and rewards of running the Western hemisphere’s biggest, best, and most diverse performing arts festival. He’s been with the festival since 1986, with a hiatus between 1991 and 1995.
LK: What are some of your favorite memories — your supreme Spoleto moments — during your tenure?
NR: Ah, where to begin? There’s the wonderful 1989 production of Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro — one of the final productions that Gian Carlo Menotti directed … That’s the one that helped launch the operatic career of Renee Fleming, and also Emmanuel’s (Villaume) first guest appearance here. Then there’s the earlier production at Dock Street of Rameau’s opera Platee, a baroque-era piece that’s fiendishly hard to pull off, being all about a Frog queen. But that’s just the kind of challenge that Spoleto thrives on. Then there are our productions of Salome, both Richard Strauss’s horrific opera and Oscar Wilde’s play, with its extravagant language. Several Chamber music productions at Dock Street also stand out, like the performance of the Tchaikovsky Trio featuring violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet back before anybody knew who they were. And I can’t leave out the 1990 production of Philip Glass’s Hydrogen Jukebox, with Allen Ginsburg’s libretto.
LK: How do you feel that the festival has evolved under your directorship?
NR: Well, [there’s] the matter of making the festival more of an institution, which is essential if we are to have any hope of accomplishing long-term development, including predictable fundraising and venue restoration. Aside from now being a more firmly established institution, Spoleto USA has grown as the city of Charleston has grown: what was a rather shabby town back in the ’70s and ’80s has become a much more burnished and cosmopolitan city, with a more artistically sophisticated populace. This has led to Charleston becoming much more of a destination of choice for tourists and art lovers alike. I feel that the festival has grown apace, and has definitely helped to drive Charleston’s artistic renaissance.
LK: How do you see the festival evolving in future years? Do you foresee any significant future collaboration with the original Italian festival?
NR: I’ve spoken of how Charleston and the festival have evolved together. So, there’s the prospect of Charleston’s planned renovation of the Gaillard Auditorium, which will benefit the festival greatly. We’re also talking to the College of Charleston about improving the Sottile Theatre. Both of these projects will open up a new range of possibilities for us, which we’ll be looking at once the work is done. I’m not sure about any changes in the festival’s basic artistic philosophy or thrust. By that I mean the fact that all of the arts embrace, inspire, and reinforce each other. That is what guides us as we plan each new festival. And no, I don’t foresee any future involvement with the Italian festival.