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
Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs) and the graceful,
elaborate, 18th-century Morning Cantata of
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