Whether it is your first or 43rd season attending Spoleto Festival USA, how well do you really know it? The 2019 Spoleto Festival USA is currently underway, featuring world-renowned artists and emerging talents in more than 150 performances of opera, theater, classical music, jazz, and dance. Though Spoleto has a rich, deep history ingrained in the Charleston culture, there may be a few things you don’t know about the Festival. Here are 10 facts you may not have known:

1. The Spoleto Festival USA offices are located in the historic Middleton-Pinckney House at 14 George Street. While it was a private residence for many years, it also served as the Water Works Company of Charleston in 1880. The building was eventually left in poor condition and needed severe renovations, especially after Hurricane Hugo. In 2001, it was bought by the City of Charleston and sold to Spoleto Festival USA for the whopping amount of $1 in commitment to restore the building and house the Festival year round. Here’s a pro tip: If you’re looking for the Festival’s in-person box office, walk just one block down to the Charleston Gaillard Center at 95 Calhoun Street.

2. Spoleto Festival USA is a non-profit, 501(c)3 charitable organization. The Festival’s mission is to present programs of the highest artistic caliber while maintaining a dedication to young artists, a commitment to all forms of the performing arts, a passion for contemporary innovation, and an enthusiasm for providing unusual performance opportunities for established artists.

3. Spoleto Festival USA was first created as an American counterpart to the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. Why Charleston? Looking for a city that would provide the charm of Spoleto as well as the Italian city’s wealth of theaters, churches and other performances spaces, the founders selected Charleston as the ideal location.

4. It has never rained on the Opening Day Ceremony of Spoleto Festival USA.  Spoleto Festival USA has had 43 years of sunshine to kick off the Festival at city hall. Call it luck or a Festival tradition, weather has never been a problem at the Festival’s commencement, besides, perhaps, being a little too warm. So, here’s to 43 more lucky years with no inclement weather (knock on wood)!

5. The Westminster Choir has performed at the Festival each year since it began in 1977. Hailing from Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey, these singers have been the chorus-in-residence for 43 years, engaging listeners with creative programming and immense talent. Under the leadership of conductor Joe Miller, Westminster Choir is featured in the ethereal staged vocal work, Path of Miracles, Bach’s monumental St. John Passion, and two concerts in St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church at this year’s Festival.

6. The Festival is in print! A team of graduate journalism students from Syracuse University’s prestigious Newhouse School comes to Charleston each year to augment the Festival and Piccolo Spoleto’s coverage in The Post and Courier. Charleston City Paper and South Carolina Public Radio also cover the Festival extensively—read up and tune in! 

7. Spoleto Festival USA has its own Orchestra! Comprised of young professional musicians and students from top conservatories and universities, the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra takes on a dynamic new identity with the participation of both returning and new musicians every year after vigorous nationwide auditions. This season, the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra accompanies the opera Salome, performs in three Music in Time concerts, has two of its own showcase concerts (Classical Showcase and Prokofiev and Shostakovich), and together with the Westminster Choir and Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus, presents Bach’s St. John Passion.

8. The Festival produces its own operas. This year, Salome is an all-new Festival production, conducted by Steven Sloane and directed by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser. There’s one final chance to see what The Post and Courier calls “timely and well suited to today’s debates and concerns.” Join Spoleto Festival USA June 5 to experience this musical masterpiece. 

9. The Bank of America Chamber Music concerts have been a Festival staple since 1977. The 11 stimulating and boisterous programs—each performed three times—feature bright contemporary compositions and canonic treasures. The chamber music performances are hosted by violinist Geoff Nuttall, celebrating his 10th season as Festival Director of Chamber Music.

10. There’s always something new! This is the first year the Wells Fargo Festival Finale, this year featuring headliner Curtis Harding, will be at Riverfront Park in North Charleston. Leading up to the main event, The Artisanals open the evening at 6:00pm, followed by local musician Benny Starr, the Festival’s first ever hip-hop artist. All tickets for the Festival Finale are general admission—and there are kids’ tickets available, too! (Children ages 6-12 are $15; children age 5 and under are free.) Lawn chairs, blankets, and picnics are welcome; outside alcohol is prohibited. Concessions can be purchased onsite. Learn more about the Finale and get tickets here!


So… how many did you know?