Production reflects Spoleto's international flavor

AP News
Posted: Jun 08, 2013 2:28 PM
Production reflects Spoleto's international flavor

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The internationally known Spoleto Festival USA founded by the late composer Gian Carlo Menotti has always presented an international slate of performers.

The season concluding Sunday — the 37th for Spoleto — features two theater companies from the United Kingdom, an acrobatic ensemble from France and dance companies from Brazil and India. But perhaps no show reflects the international flavor of the 17-day arts festival than the American premier of the opera "Matsukaze."

The composer is Japanese and the director is Chinese, while the lead singers are Korean and perform in German. An American conducts the orchestra.

Based on a text from Japanese Noh theater, it tells the story of the spirits of two sisters condemned to wander the earth. "Matsukaze," which means "wind in the pines," is by contemporary Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa and premiered in Brussels two years ago. The curtain was to rise on the final Spoleto production Saturday night.

Noh theater dates back centuries and plots generally center around legends and the supernatural.

Hosokawa has lived in Germany for years, said John Kennedy, who is conducting the opera.

"He's really at home with the language so it's already a cross-cultural piece in that way," said Kennedy, who also is the festival's resident conductor. "There is something in the piece as far as merging East and West that inspired us to have that energy in our team."

Director Chen Shi-Zheng, who has directed two previous Spoleto productions, said he retained traditional Japanese elements in the staging "but the music doesn't sound stereotypical of a Japanese composer."

"There's a spirit that reminds you of a quality of meditation but it's a contemporary and beautiful piece."

Chen also called the production a "melting pot" and a "mixture," a description that could apply to the Spoleto festival as a whole.

The opera, presented with English subtitles projected above the stage, tells a compelling story that draws in the audience. Yet the music, for an American audience, is a bit more unusual, Chen said.

"It's not broad. In that sense it's quite Eastern," he said.

"The pace of the music is very gradual so there is an element that is not normal for Western audiences," Kennedy agreed. "The production draws you in with slow, inevitable change."

But he said Spoleto is an ideal place for such a production.

"Our audience for opera is people who have been exposed to many different things at the festival over the years so they are quite adventurous," he said.

"The festival audience is always more accepting than a general audience," Chen agreed. "People go to a festival because the normal repertory opera does not provide this kind of repertoire. So they are geared to something a little more eccentric, if that is a good word."

Spoleto, created here in 1977 as a companion to Menotti's Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, opened on May 24. The run of 160 performances, the festival's largest, concludes Sunday evening with a concert by the Red Stick Ramblers — a Cajun, honky-tonk and swing ensemble at Middleton Place Plantation outside of Charleston. The concert is followed by the traditional closing fireworks display.