Yesterday was the official opening of the Spoleto Festival USA, and it got off to an exciting start with not only the loudest confetti cannons I’ve ever heard, but a wonderfully upbeat Shakespearean musical number by the member of Shakespeare’s Globe’s touring company, in town to perform Romeo and Juliet

This was all at the Opening Ceremonies, of course, a festival tradition during which Mayor Riley and several guests give short speeches, musicians and singers play, and the aforementioned confetti cannons explode, scaring the bejeezus out of every animal and child in attendance. All joking aside, they do make for an appropriately festive kickoff to these 17 days of arts and culture — as we were reminded yesterday by the Chair of the Board of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Chu, arts festivals like Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto bring community members together in a way that not much else does. It’s true that Spoleto ticket prices make it inaccessible to many — OK, more like most — but Spoleto is also the reason we have Piccolo Spoleto, which has plenty of free and family-oriented events that anyone can attend.

It was a nice reminder of the incredible value that the arts bring to a community; we’re so lucky to live in a city with such a rich year-round cultural scene. I really felt that yesterday, as I was at the ceremony with my husband and twin 17-month-olds — now I’ll be able to tell them that they saw world-class Shakespeare performers for the first time when they were only toddlers.  

Then last night, I saw the world premiere of Paradise Interrupted, the installation opera by Jennifer Wen Ma. I have a full review of the opera that will be posted shortly, but in short: it was an incredibly impressive display of an artistic vision, but as is nearly inevitable with something so ambitious, the physical manifestation — specifically of the black garden — fell just slightly short. Technically, however, it was executed to perfection, which I almost couldn’t believe, given the huge array of very complicated effects that is uses. 

Also: Qian Yi, the singer, is so beautiful I couldn’t stand it. She is truly one of those legendary opera divas — the kind you just want to adore and fling roses and pretty little gifts to at the close of the performance. Qian deserves every speck of praise that she’s earned (and she’s earned a lot) over the course of her career. 

Ma, composer Ruo, and the entire creative team were in attendance last night, which gave the packed theater an additional energy. After the final piece was sung, Qian brought not only the conductor, but also the full team on stage for bows. The applause was thunderous. 

Two performances in, I’ve seen some of that death theme I anticipated going in. In Paradise, we have a symbolic death and rebirth; in my first show, Musica Nuda, there was no death but there was absolutely destruction (musical destruction, that is). Here’s to even more this afternoon — I see Streetcar Named Desire and Veremonda next.