Saturday, May 23, 2009

A long day at Spoleto

My first day at the Spoleto Festival, my 20th it turns out when i stopped and counted, was a busy one. Up at 6:30 (too early), tour of the being-renovated Dock Street Theatre at 10, opening ceremonies where I saw a lot of people I knew and searched frantically for the person whose apartment I'm renting. Actress and former National Endowment for the Arts chief Jane Alexander, too many thank yous from various people, a moving tribute by Mayor Joe Riley for outgoing chamber music master Charles Wadsworth and Wadsworth rushing off because he had to play the harpsichord in a few minutes (I tried to use that excuse but it didn't fly.)
It wasn't as hot as usual.
At the concert Wadsworth got a much-deserved warm response from the audience which then sang "Happy Birthday." He turned 80 on Thursday. He conducted the performance and the audience did well. The high point of the first concert was the final work, the Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet by Chausson.
I managed to get some lunch (Moe's if you must know) and didn't manage a nap. Then to the opera.
Because of budget cuts, the festival is doing just one opera this year, "Louise" by Gustave Charpentier. The 1900 opera tells a familiar story: a young woman wants to leave her restrictive home and run off with a poet. And "Louise," sung beautifully by Stefania Dovhan in her U.S. debut, does that. The music is very engaging, all the performers stellar and the technical aspects, if not particularly inventive, are interesting choices. Some of these, such as making Louise's home a huge room, don't work well at first. But later when daughter, father and mother are reunited, with Louise sitting on the couch in this drab apartment, wearing her lighted "Queen of the Bohemians" crown it makes sense.
That said, the opera itself is over-the-top lyrically, even compared to opera, and the story not always that compelling.
Director Sam Helfrich has made some bold choices, which lends both creepiness (what's going on with Louise and her father?) and funny (when the Love God of Paris won't share the spotlight with some dancing girls.)The rather indefinite end which Helfrich emphasizes is also a good move in an opera where too much of the expected happens.
Charpentier was a one-hit wonder and it's easy to see why this piece was so popular all the way up to the composer's death in 1956. But one does wonder if it was the best choice for the only opera this year.
Additional performances are May 25, 31 and June 6.
The opera lasts about three hours after which I headed south to a party and ran into old and new friends. I was chatting with Bob and Bev Howard, formerly of Columbia and active with Trustus, who have lived in Greenville for about a decade now, when we were asked to leave by the hostess. Nah, we weren't having too much fun; the cops just really shut things down in the residential area at midnight.
Gotta run - a play at noon, a concert at 3, a concert at 5 and a play at 8:30.

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