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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 beneath a canopy of ancient oaks or inside a centuries-old cathedral.

Some 45 events—which cost between $10 (for balcony seats) and $130 (good orchestra seats), with most averaging between $25 and $50—include everything from improv to Shakespeare, from rap to chamber music, from ballet to salsa. 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." Mayor Joseph Riley has diligently worked to renew that Italian connection with the original mother festival in Spoleto, Italy (www.festivaldispoleto.it). This reaffirmation of sister-city partnership and the sharing of ideas has encouraged and increased tourism between the two cities for both festivals and beyond.

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 cooks prepare lavish spreads. For decades the Spoleto Festival Orchestra has played a spirited concert of contemporary and classic pieces, followed by spectacular fireworks exploding over the Ashley River. Tradition was broken in 2010 when the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American string band, performed. Because events sell out quickly, insiders say you should buy your Spoleto tickets several weeks in advance. (Tickets to midweek performances are a bit easier to secure.) Hotels definitely 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.

Updated: 03-2013

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