Charleston, South Carolina
If there's a subset of the "cultural tourist" category of traveler, it's the "festival fan" and if you say "Charleston" to one, you'll get a big smile. The city's Spoleto Festival USA is known worldwide as a not-to-be missed annual summit of opera, orchestral music, dance, theater, and visual arts. And one of the great charms of this 17-day spectacular - this year, May 28 to June 13 - is that it's two festivals in one: Piccolo Spoleto ("little Spoleto") arrays the arts of the Southeast as a backdrop to the major American, South American, European, and Asian offerings of the "big" festival.
Not that Charleston, itself, needs any help. We're back to Porgy and Bess here, you know. The "Holy City," as natives call it, is the setting for George and Ira Gershwin's Summertime opera and site of a magnificent restoration of the antebellum seat of the Great Secession of December 1860. Walk down Meeting Street under the melting Spanish moss of live oak trees and you find yourself in Battery Park, where centuries-old mansions face Charleston Harbor's breezes perfumed by the city's famous restaurants.
Spoleto, founded in Charleston in 1977, is composer Gian Carlo Menotti's answer to an older festival based in his native Italy, a fact that still makes this one of the most internationally flavored all-arts fests of any season. And last year, it set a record at the box office, selling more than $2.5 million in tickets.
This year's lineup features ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov in a return to the stage for Rezo Gabriadze's The Doctor and the Patient; a revival of the 18-hour (yes, 18 hours) Chinese Kunju opera The Peony Pavilion; a new production of Vincenzo Bellini's opera I Capuleti e I Montecchi; environmental-and-movement theater author David Gordon's The Chairs, a world-première interpretation of the Eugene Ionesco farce; and Bolshoi/American Ballet Theatre prima ballerina Nina Ananiashvili with a specially assembled troupe called the Moscow Ballet Theatre in the American première of Leah, set to Leonard Bernstein's The Dybbuk.