Did you see the news? Today, Spoleto Festival USA announced opera programming for 2022, the first taste of what’s ahead for the upcoming Festival season. And it was a big announcement.

This spring, we’re reimagining a night at the opera and inviting you to grab a front row seat to three innovative works at the country’s premier international performing arts festival.

 

A long-awaited premiere

 

The centerpiece of this unprecedented season is the long-awaited world premiere of Omar from iconic music makers Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels. Commissioned by the Festival in 2017, this production depicting the life of African-Muslim scholar Omar Ibn Said finally debuts onstage in Charleston, where Said was enslaved in 1807.

Omar Ibn Said’s story is one of more than 100,000 West Africans who were stolen from their homelands and brought through Charleston’s ports, brutal vanishings that left families and future generations wondering of their existences. Based on his 1831 autobiography, Omar’s creative team traces Omar Ibn Said’s spiritual journey from his early life in West Africa to his enslavement across the Atlantic.

This story of strength, resistance, and religious conviction is told by Grammy winning librettist and composer Rhiannon Giddens and co-composer Michael Abels. With a score that marries West African musical traditions with conventional Western opera instrumentation, this production will offer Spoleto Festival USA’s audiences a story that hasn’t been represented in the operatic world—until now.

 

Reclaiming and reframing stories

 

Innovative opera continues with the premiere of Unholy Wars, a multidisciplinary world premiere that examines the Crusades from a contemporary Arab American perspective.

For this new work, Grammy winning tenor Karim Sulayman stitches together early baroque pieces from composers including Monteverdi, Rossi, and Handel. While you may think you know these works, Sulayman and collaborators—including visual artist Kevork Maroud, and Up Until Now Collective ’s Kevin Newbury—reframe the narrative.

 

An operatic 180

 

For an operatic evening perfect for devotees and newcomers alike, enter the classic La bohème. How does Yuval Sharon, “the most innovative director in the United States” (The New York Times), plan to boldly retell this widely performed tragedy? For one, he’ll set it in reverse.

In this new production, Sharon has flipped the show completely around and, in the process, extracts hope from tragedy and life from death. Puccini’s opera may be one of the most widely performed—and the basis for pop-culture mega hits (read: Rent and even Moulin Rouge)—yet Sharon’s reordering allows for listening with fresh ears. “For those who know La bohème so deeply, this may open doors to hear the work in a new way,” he says. “And for people who are unfamiliar, it will be a beautiful entry point.”

Even the biggest fans of this opera standard haven’t seen it like this, and Sharon says this current resetting “means listening with fresh ears to a piece that falls often into predictability.”

 

Stay connected and get ready to buy your tickets

 

Whether you’re a seasoned operagoer or you have yet to take a seat, these three new productions at Spoleto Festival USA 2022 offer transformative experiences that are sure to spark discussion and challenge your understanding of opera itself.

As Charleston begins to set the stage for the 46th season of Spoleto Festival USA, we hope you’ll stay connected as we announce the entire season in February 2022. You can join our email list to make sure you don’t miss more exciting announcements or make a donation today so you can join our exclusive donor presale before tickets go on sale on February 22.

Photo: Seat at Sottile Theatre, home of Omar at Spoleto Festival USA 2022