The Spoleto Festival was born of the fertile imagination of Gian Carlo Menotti. Menotti was a composer of operas, most notably, “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” The opera was a great success in the 1950s. Menotti took some of the proceeds from that triumph and started the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy in 1958. The festival was a great hit, well attended and popularly reviewed, it continues to this day.
Menotti wanted to bring the festival to America and in 1978 he did. A committee looked at several towns in the south of the US. Part of the process was intended by the National Endowment for the Arts, which gave a startup grant to Menotti, as a way to bring some cultural activity to the South. Menotti's group first looked at Winston-Salem, North Carolina. But Charleston captured their heart. Gian Carlo found a city with enough auditoriums and churches and schools where the Festival where the performances could be held, a citizenry which would support the Festival, and a town with a charming look. It has been there ever since 1978, called SpoletoUSA it runs every summer with many people from the US and abroad in attendance.
Charleston is certainly a graceful, old city. It is devoid of fast food restaurants, has a host of rickshaws (bicycle-taxis which will pedal you anywhere in the city center for $5-$7), an old South menu of restaurants which will feed the visitor everything from delectable seafood to steaks. For the visitor interested in southern cuisine there are many restaurants which serve grits.
Nigel Reddin is the current impresario of SpoletoUSA. He is a charming fellow, bright and agile. He began as a young man working with the Festival in Italy in 1969 and came back to work for the festival in Charleston in 1986 and so he has a remarkable experience to draw upon. “The Spoleto Festival was always about young artists. For example the average age of the Spoleto Orchestra is 25. The acrobats in ‘Le Grand C’ are all in their 20s,” he said.