Julia Lynn Photography, 2015

Charleston’s Spoleto Festival USA Performance Highlights


For 17 days, it’s all about the arts here in Charleston. The annual Spoleto Festival USA brings to Charleston some of the best in theater, music, dance, opera and more from May 27 to June 12. The festival was founded in 1977 as the American counterpart to the annual Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, Christopher Keene and others were looking for an American city with an abundance of theaters, churches and other performance spaces, making Charleston the perfect city for a sister festival in the United States.

Bringing together world-renowned performers, Spoleto Festival USA is internationally recognized as America’s premier performing arts festival.

One of these year’s most anticipated festival events is the opera “Porgy and Bess” at the Gaillard Center, a spectacular performance venue recently opened in downtown Charleston. Created by George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin, Charleston was the inspiration for DuBose Heyward’s Catfish Row. Acclaimed Charleston artist Jonathan Green provided the visual design for this Spoleto performance.

2016 Spoleto Festival USA poster featuring Harvest Gathering by Jonathan Green

2016 Spoleto Festival USA poster featuring Harvest Gathering by Jonathan Green

Quickly after “Porgy and Bess” was announced as part of the 2016 Spoleto lineup, tickets sold out. But earlier this month, Spoleto Festival announced it would do two live broadcasts of the opera open to the public.

Watch the live broadcast of “Porgy and Bess” at 7:30 p.m. May 30 in Marion Square at King and Calhoun streets and again at 7:30 p.m. May 31 at the West Ashley High School practice field, 2060 W. Wildcat Blvd. in Charleston. Both screenings are free and open to the public. The performance is about 3 hours and 15 minutes and includes adult themes.

A few other “Porgy and Bess” events taking place during Spoleto:

“Porgy and Bess” Walking Tour: 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. May 27 to June 12. Check out the locations made famous by the opera and DuBose Heyward’s novel, “Porgy,” including Catfish Row. Book tickets in advance at spoletousa.org.

Beyond Catfish Row: The Art of Porgy and Bess: This exhibit at the newly renovated Gibbes Museum of Art showcases this famous opera as interpreted by visual artist. The exhibition includes a number of paintings from the 1930s era, including works by American realist George Biddle, who illustrated the original Porgy and Bess libretto in 1935. Beyond Catfish Row also includes paintings by Gershwin himself and works by American modernist Henry Botkin, who accompanied the composer to Charleston while he wrote the opera. The exhibit runs May 28 to Oct. 9 at the museum, 135 Meeting St.

Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’: George Gershwin’s Charleston: Visit the Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting St., to see this display of black and white images of Charleston during the 1920s and 1930s, period clothing and accessories, the very piano that George Gershwin used to compose the opera, as well as a goat cart in ode to Samuel Smalls, the inspiration for the character of Porgy. There will be curator-led tours and children’s educational programs during the exhibition from May 15 to July 31.

“Porgy and Bess” is just one of 150 performances during Spoleto Festival USA. Other festival highlights include the U.S. premiere of opera “The Little Match Girl” by contemporary German composer Helmut Lachenmann and the U.S. premiere of a new production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Dublin’s Gate Theatre, directed by Patrick Mason.

Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra

Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra / photo by_Julia Lynn Photography

The Westminster Choir, Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, and members of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus will perform Beethoven’s Mass in C Major and Choral Fantasy in the new Charleston Gaillard Center conducted by Joe Miller.

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of Spoleto Festival USA at the Festival Finale on June 12, featuring a beer garden and live music surrounded by the landscaped gardens of Middleton Place. Gates open at 3:30 p.m. with live music beginning at 4 p.m. Headliners Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats perform at 8:30 p.m. The evening concludes with a spectacular fireworks display.

For a complete schedule of Spoleto Festival USA events, check out spoletousa.org or for more information, call 843-579-3100.