Spoleto Festival announces 2023 season, with names familiar to Atlanta

The 2023 season for Spoleto Festival USA was announced today, and suggests that after Covid-impacted seasons, the festival will once again be an opportunity for Atlantans to enjoy an intense immersion in the performing arts over the course of a weekend or a few days, all within driving distance.

The greatness of Spoleto is that it offers a range of chamber music, opera, orchestra concerts, theatre, dance, jazz and even physical theatre, with programming all day long. So you can pack in many shows as you think you can handle. And pretty much everything is cutting edge, even experimental. This is not the place to find a routine performance of a warhorse opera or play. Instead, it gives the audience a chance to stretch out a bit, often with ensembles visiting from Europe and elsewhere.

Tickets are now on sale for the festival, which runs from May 26 until June 11 in Charleston, South Carolina, and almost everything is within walking distance “on the tongue” — Charleston’s historic peninsula.

The festival’s long-running chamber-music program suffered a blow last year with the death of Geoff Nuttall, who headed up that portion of Spoleto. Nuttall was himself a renowned violinist and a member of the famous St. Lawrence String Quartet. But chamber-music programming at Spoleto has long been synonymous with Nuttall, who Served as host for every concert over the past 12 years. He was witty, with wonderful charisma, and audiences loved him.

The festival’s Opening Concert (May 26 in the Charleston Gaillard Center) will be a celebration dedicated to Nuttall, with former Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Music Director Robert Spano conducting the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, joined by a host of guest artists, including Alisa Weilerstein. Stephen Prutsman, Anthony Roth Costanzo and Paul Groves.

The Scottish Ballet will perform a piece by Helen Pickett, the former Atlanta Ballet choreographer-in-residence. (Photo by Tatiana Wills)

The chamber-music series will continue from that point with morning and afternoon concerts of 11 different programmes, each performed three times. Typically, these mix contemporary works with favorites from the canon.

Opera has always taken center stage at this festival, and opera fans were thrilled last season when the festival returned to its format of presenting three different operas. Alas, that concept hasn’t stuck, and this season features only a single opera: Samuel Barber’s Vanessadirected by Rodula Gaitanou, with Nicole Heaston in the title role. Vanessa has special resonance here, as the libretto was written by the festival’s founder, Gian Carlo Menotti. This is a return engagement of sorts: Vanessa was performed as part of Spoleto’s third season, 45 years ago.

Besides the Opening Concert, the Festival Orchestra will present several orchestral concerts, including a performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, paired with the US premiere of Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 14.

Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe song cycle will be performed by tenor James McCorkle, accompanying himself on piano, in a new stage adaptation by projection artist Miwa Matreyek.

Dance highlights include the Scottish Ballet performing an adaptation of it Crucible by Helen Pickett, the former Atlanta Ballet choreographer-in-residence who created several landmark pieces for the company. Other notables include performances of The Sacrifice, choreographed by Dada Masilo, which features Tswana dance forms that are native to Botswana; and Chasing Magica work for six dancers by tap dancer/choreographer Ayodele Casel.

Theater programming will include an Obie-winning production of An Iliad by Homer’s Coat, originally developed at New York Theater Workshop; The Book of Life, a performance by Odile Gakire Katese built from the murder of one million people in Rwanda in 1994; and Only an Octave Aparta music revue featuring Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo, two iconic American voices in a work positioned “somewhere between opera and politically subversive cabaret.”

One returning series beloved by fans of experimental music is Music In Time, two concerts directed by John Kennedy, resident conductor at the festival, featuring new music and, in this case, an interesting work by György Ligeti, Poem Symphonique for 100 mechanical metronomes.

Jazz artists this year include the Quentin Baxter Quintet, Kris Davis (Diatom Ribbons), Henry Threadgill’s Zooid and South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim appearing with the ensemble Ekaya.


James L. Paulk is a longtime classical music writer for such publications as ArtsATL and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is also a former state senator.

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