A last-minute Italian opera for '08 Spoleto? Nope. (Now with two all-new updates!)

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A report in yesterday's Post and Courier implied that the new director of the Festival of Two Worlds Foundation, the Italian sister of Charleston's Spoleto Festival USA, was going to scour the Holy City's theaters searching for a good place for an opera in the 2008 festival:

He [Giorgio Ferrara] said there are also plans to produce an opera at Spoleto, which will be held May 23 to June 8. "I will visit all the theaters in Charleston to see what will fit and how we can collaborate," Ferrara said.

Strange thing, though. The article doesn't reference anyone from Spoleto Festival USA, not Nigel Redden, the executive director, not even one of the public relations people.

So I called Spoleto to see if there's anything to this. Paula Edwards, director of marketing and PR, told me yesterday that she didn't know anything about it, but would get back with me today. When she did, nothing had changed. There will not be any collaboration with the Italian festival this year. Perhaps in the future, Edwards said, in an effort -- really -- to say who knows? Hell might freeze over, too.

The P&C article reported on Mayor Joe Riley's efforts to reach out to the Festival of Two Worlds Foundation after the death of Maestro Gian Carlo Menotti and his son Chip Menotti, who was given the heave-ho by the Italian government after running the Umbrian arts festival into the ground financially.

Riley seems to be making highly visible overtures to that city's mayor and Ferrara, but what it means in terms of material gain for the American festival and for the city of Charleston and its art lover seems unclear at this point. Maybe Ferrara was talking about putting on an opera with Piccolo Spoleto in 2008. That's something Riley can make happen. And that would be very interesting indeed for everyone, even Spoleto.

See update below for more on Piccolo Spoleto

UPDATE (04.03.08) It's unlikely there will be any opera added to the line-up for Piccolo Spoleto, according to a source close to Mayor Joe Riley's efforts to rekindle the flame between Spoleto Festival USA and its Italian sister, the Festival of Two Worlds Foundation. This source also voiced skepticism about what these efforts actually mean.

There's no question they are symbolic. Spoleto's roots are in Italy. Maestro Gian Carlo Menotti founded the first festival in Spoleto, Umbria, in the 1950s and founded its American version in Charleston two decades later. A rift between them came in 1993, because, according to some observers, of the prima dona attitudes toward American artists and philanthropists by Chip Menotti, his adopted son.

Now that Menotti is dead (he died Feb. 1, 2007), and now that Chip has been pushed out as inheritor of the Menotti mantle by the Italian Culture Ministry (he ran the festival into the ground financially, at the very least), Joe Riley has been trying to get the two cities and festivals back together. But so far those efforts have been mostly about commerce and tourism -- raising awareness of Umbrian products and services among Charlestonians and, by extension, Americans. That seems fine, but what about the festivals?

That's another matter.

Nigel Redden was conspicuously absent from Monday's dinner between Charleston city officials and an Italian delegation that included the mayor of Spoleto, Italy, and Giorgio Ferrara, Chip Menotti's successor as head of the Festival of Two Worlds Foundation (the Italian government changed the name in order to undermine Chip's leverage as rightful owner of "Festival of Two Worlds"). The substance of reunification rhetoric is unclear at this point.

Even if there was some substance, why would Redden and his board choose to share resources once again with its Italian counterpart? They once shared an orchestra, the Westminster Choir, even some operas. But the Festival of Two Worlds was on the brink of bankruptcy. And besides, most of its money -- some reports say as much as 70 percent -- comes from the Culture Ministry. Why would the American Spoleto share its money, most of which comes from private philanthropy? Certainly, there is prestige to consider, but Redden's festival at this point seems to have far more at stake.

(Image above courtesy of the P&C. That's Giorgio Ferrara in the middle. He's the new head of the Festival of Two Worlds Foundation)

UPDATE (04.04.08) In my last post, I wrote about the last-minute addition, reported in The Post and Courier, of an opera to the Spoleto Festival line-up. It turns out there's nothing to substantiate the report.

In the same post, I reported that Nigel Redden was not present during a meeting on Monday between city of Charleston, the city of Spoleto, Italy, and the new head of the Festival of Two Worlds, the sister festival of Spoleto.

The meeting was intended to boost commerce and tourism between the two cities and to "reunify," according to the P&C, the two festivals, which have been estranged since 1993 after their founder, Gian Carlo Menotti, abandoned the American festival.

I've since learned that Redden's absence was due to his being in India during the meeting. It was impossible for him to travel to Charleston. His trip had been planned for some time, but the visit by the Italian delegation was planned in a hurry.

I have also since learned that the summit, as it were, had been initiated by the Italians, not Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, though Riley has, since 1993, been open to renewed talks between the two cities despite a rift that was centered on Menotti's son Francis "Chip" Menotti.

Since Menotti's death early last year, there has been wide speculation that the two festivals -- Spoleto Festival USA and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy -- would once again come together, sharing directors, artists, resources, etc.

But a source inside Spoleto Festival USA told me today that it is unlikely that there will be a formal connection between the two festivals. Collaboration, yes. A merging of the two organizations, probably not.

In an interview today, Nigel Redden told me that the two festivals had never been united. So the idea of a reunification is something of a misnomer.

"There was always a question of unification, even from the beginning, because of issues of fund-raising and structuring of the organizations," Redden said. "But they have always been quite different organizations."

From the Charleston City Paper

April 5, 2008 8:51 AM |

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