At a festival featuring artists from Seamus Heaney to Laurie Anderson, it's Albarn whom local people recognize on the street. And "Monkey," a "circus opera" with Chinese acrobats, video animations and Albarn's Asian-fusion score, is the hottest ticket of the Spoleto season, which runs until June 8.
The late composer Gian Carlo Menotti founded Spoleto USA in 1977, an offshoot of the "Festival of Two Worlds" he founded in 1958 in Spoleto itself. He could not have anticipated that his legacy would live on more vividly in his festivals than in his once-popular but now generally unfashionable operas.
Still, Spoleto USA has done very nicely since his departure, after considerable controversy, in 1993; whereas the Italian festival, which remained under his control, became increasingly moribund. When Menotti died in 2007 at 95, Spoleto's city fathers deposed his adopted son Chip, who has a gift for alienating those around him, and reconnected with the festival in Charleston, whose current $8.5 million budget appears to go considerably further than the Italian festival's $11 million of state subsidies. Spoleto USA's excellent music director, Emmanuel Villaume, will conduct a production at this year's Spoleto Festival in Italy, and the mayor of Spoleto, Massimo Brunini, sported a red-white-and-green sash at the opening ceremonies on Friday.
"We were never unified," says Nigel Redden, Spoleto USA's leprechaun-like director, "so we can't be reunified. But there was an intimate connection."
The festival scene has burgeoned in the years since Spoleto was founded; today, international co-productions make the rounds from Edinburgh to Paris to Redden's other festival at Lincoln Center in New York. Still, Spoleto remains one of the few American festivals to present a cross section of all the performing arts, and one of the few that produce their own work.