Spoleto USA Festival Opens With Flag-Waving Ceremony

Ticket sales running at $30,000 per day despite tourism boycott.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Two flags flew proudly in the

hot noonday sun over the Charleston City Hall for Friday's opening

of the Spoleto Festival USA: the Stars and Stripes and the city's own

flag, bearing Charleston's coat of arms.

Those flags caused no debate in a city that has suffered recently

from controversy over the display of the Confederate flag in the

distant state capital, Columbia.

"In the 14 years I have been associated with Spoleto, I have seen

the Confederate flag only once," Nigel Redden, general director of

the festival, said.

Spoleto USA usually attracts about $42 million worth of tourist trade

to South Carolina each year. This year, it was hit by a boycott on

South Carolina tourism, launched by the National Association for the

Advancement of Colored People.

Despite the boycott, the festival's opening ceremony, the 24th in its

history, had a standing-room only audience, including several

African Americans. More than 500 folding chairs were set up in the

square facing the City Hall, with perhaps a dozen empty seats

scattered among them.

A far larger number of spectators stood on the edges of the crowd.

A single heckler repeatedly shouted an unintelligible, one-syllable

challenge, but otherwise nobody at the ceremony seemed worried

about the flag issue.

One African-American spectator, who declined to give his name,

remarked, "This festival is not about color; it's about being human."

In his opening address, Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley said, "I

am proud to say that two flags now fly over our state Capitol —

the flag of the United States and the flag of South Carolina." The

state legislature recently voted to have the Confederate battle flag

removed from the capitol dome.

The ceremony followed an agenda familiar to regular festival fans: a

little bit of entertainment (including 10-foot-tall puppets and a brass

sextet) and a lot of oratory, beginning with an invocation, "Thank

you, God, for this wonderful day," by African American pastor and

police commissioner the Rev. Jimmy Gallant.

It ended, as usual, with Riley uttering his time-honored greeting to

Italian tourists in South Carolina-accented Italian ("Saluti ai nostri

amici d'Italia"), although the South Carolina festival is no longer

connected to the Spoleto Festival in Italy.

Meanwhile, interest in the festival — at least in terms of the

number of tickets being sold — was running high. Marie

Lawson, the festival's director of marketing and public relations, told

the Charleston Post and Courier that in the past four days

tickets have averaged $30,000 per day, compared to an average of

under $20,000 per day in recent weeks.

Forty-five minutes after the opening ceremony, the festival proper

began with its first chamber music concert in the small and ancient

Dock Street Theatre. As usual, the audience knew that the

performance would be by young musicians — some headed

for major careers, if the past is any indicator — but they had no

idea what they would hear until they saw the day's menu, chalked up

on a blackboard in the lobby.

It was, as usual, a mixture of familiar music (

COLOR="#003163">Brahms' Quintet in F minor for

piano and strings) and unfamiliar

COLOR="#003163">Saint-Saens' charming

Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs) and the graceful,

elaborate, 18th-century Morning Cantata of

COLOR="#003163">Thomas Arne.

With the opening day behind it, Spoleto USA gets into gear during

the weekend with its traditional fare of chamber music and opera.

Highlights of the festival, which runs through June 11, include a

newly staged version of Bright

Sheng's opera The Silver River and the U.S.

premiere of German composer

COLOR="#003163">Heiner Goebbels' Surrogate

Cities.