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Charleston's Spoleto Festival USA

Spoleto Festival USA. For 17 glorious days in late May and early June, Charleston gets a dose of culture from the Spoleto Festival USA. This internationally acclaimed performing-arts festival features a mix of distinguished artists and emerging talent from around the world. Performances take place in magical settings, such as the College of Charleston's Cistern beneath a canopy of ancient oaks or inside a centuries-old cathedral. A mix of formal concerts and casual performances is what Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti had in mind when, in 1977, he initiated the festival as a complement to his opera-heavy Italian festival. He chose Charleston because of its European look and because its residents love the arts—not to mention any cause for celebration. He wanted the festival to be a "fertile ground for the young" as well as a "dignified home for the masters." The finale is a must-do, particularly for the younger crowd. Staged outdoors at Middleton Place, the plantation house and lush landscaped gardens provide a dramatic backdrop. The inexpensive seating is unreserved and unlimited. The lawn is covered with blankets and chairs, and many families bring lavish spreads to munch and sip on. Recent performances have included bluegrass legend Del McCoury and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American string band, followed by spectacular fireworks exploding over the Ashley River. Some 45 events—with most tickets averaging between $25 and $50—include everything from improv to Shakespeare, from rap to chamber music, from ballet to salsa. Because events sell out quickly, insiders say you should buy tickets several weeks in advance. Tickets to midweek performances are a bit easier to secure. Hotels fill up quickly, so book a room at the same time and reserve your tables for the trendy downtown restaurants. Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/722–2764. www.spoletousa.org.

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