Spoleto Festival USA was founded in 1977 by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who sought to create an American counterpart to the annual Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, that he founded in 1958. Looking for a city that would provide the charm of Spoleto as well as its wealth of theaters, churches and other performances spaces, Menotti selected Charleston as the ideal location. The historic city provided a perfect fit: it was intimate enough that the Festival would captivate the entire city, yet cosmopolitan enough to provide an enthusiastic audience and robust infrastructure. Championed by a young Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. and College of Charleston’s then-president Theodore Stern, Spoleto Festival USA held its inaugural season in 1977.
“Spoleto Festival USA put Charleston on the map” — The Post and Courier
Spoleto has also served as a catalyst for cultural change in Charleston, aiding in the city’s flourishing as a top destination. Together with the city and community leaders, Spoleto has spearheaded the renovations of numerous performance spaces: Festival Hall, Dock Street Theatre, College of Charleston Sottile Theatre, and the Charleston Gaillard Center.
Since its inaugural season, Spoleto Festival USA has established itself as America’s premier performing arts festival. For 17 days and nights beginning the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, Spoleto fills Charleston with renowned artists and emerging performers in disciplines including opera, theater, dance, and a wide range of music—from symphonic and chamber to choral, jazz, and folk.
“Spoleto’s lineup is always tantalizingly diverse and talent-packed” — Departures
In a typical season, Spoleto mounts 150 performances in more than 10 venues. The Festival also produces its own operas, specializing in rarely performed masterpieces by well-known composers, American premieres, and traditional works presented in new ways. In its 45 year history, the Festival has produced and/or presented more than 20 opera, dance, and theater world premieres including Tennessee Williams’s Creve Coeur (1978); Arthur Miller’s The American Clock (1980); Laurie Anderson’s Empty Places (1989); Urban Bush Women’s Praise House (1990); Philip Glass’s Hydrogen Jukebox (1990); Lee Breuer’s Lulu Noire (1997); Huang Ruo’s Paradise Interrupted (2015); Carrie Mae Weems’s Grace Notes: Reflections for Now (2016); Ayodele Casel’s While I Have the Floor (2017); Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Omar (2022).
Click below for a comprehensive program history of the Festival’s performances.
To learn more about Spoleto Festival USA and its mission, click HERE.