Charleston, S.C.- Scrapping the traditional outdoor confetti cannons to escape the rain, Spoleto Festival USA opened its 2023 season inside Festival Hall with the reverberating rhythms of the first female drumming ensemble from Rwanda. The women captivated with their powerful playing, impassioned faces, and colorful, whirling ribbons of hair.
It was a hard act to follow, the festival’s general director Mena Mark Hanna noted as he redirected the audience’s attention. Hanna took the helm of Spoleto last year as the festival and the nation tried to emerge from the challenges of a pandemic.
This year has brought difficulties too. Long-time and beloved Chamber Music Director Geoff Nuttall passed away last October at the age of 56. Irreplaceable may be an understatement for a man The New York Times has called “the Jon Stewart of chamber music”.
“Geoff felt every note he played,” said Hanna just hours before the festival honored the charismatic violinist with a tribute concert at the Gaillard Center.
Hanna says this year’s season is not only beautiful and entertaining.
“Our work is also urgent,” he said. “We look at the stories and how we interpret them and how they evolve with our cultural and political realities.”
The opera “Vanessa”, for example, premiered in New York in 1958 and returns to Spoleto for the first time in more than 50 years. It tells the story of a beautiful woman who is left by her lover and awaits his return only to wind up in a love triangle in which the other woman “self induces a miscarriage”.
A self-induced miscarriage or abortion takes on new meaning in 2023.
“It’s psychologically harrowing amidst a renewed assault on women’s bodies,” said Hanna.
From opera to chamber music and Scottish ballet, this year’s Spoleto Festival USA includes more than 120 performances over 17 days. Performances Hanna says are urgent because they allow us to feel, to engage in the arts and push back against the numbness of technology.
“The numbness of staring at those devices in our hands all the time.”
Spoleto Festival USA runs through June 11the with a finale concert by “Tank and Bangas” at the Firefly Distillery grounds in North Charleston followed by fireworks.