Notorious "Amistad" headlines Charleston's Spoleto Festival
Perry Tannenbaum
May 20, 2008

Journey to the West, a high-octane "circus opera"
Spoleto Festival USA
Dock Street Theatre, the fabled hub of Spoleto Festival USA, is shut down for renovations. But Memorial Day is around the corner, and the show must go on!
The Dock may be out of commission, but Spoleto is boldly bringing the most notorious ship in the history of American jurisprudence to the port city of Charleston. While the landmark on Church Street gets its long-overdue overhaul, another venue has been upfitted and readied for service - Memminger Auditorium on Beaufrain Street.

That's where Anthony Davis's opera, "Amistad," will open on May 22, with six additional performances scheduled through June 7. Extended by an additional day for the special reopening of Meminger, Spoleto Festival USA runs for 18 days this year, concluding on June 8 at Middleton Place with a thrilling Concert Finale under the stars.
In between the "Amistad" opening and the lakeside finale, more than 130 additional performances will set their anchors at eight different Charleston venues at Spoleto. Founded in 1977 by the late Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti, the world-class Spoleto Festival USA has spawned an even larger regional satellite, Piccolo Spoleto, boasting an additional 700 events.

La Amistad was a Spanish schooner illegally transporting kidnapped Africans in 1839 to Cuba. Fifty-three captives took over the ship and demanded passage back to Spain, sparing only the two slave "owners," whom they needed to sail the ship.

These wily Spaniards, Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montes, steered east by day and north by night. So they were eventually picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard off Long Island after first being sighted by two sea captains. All of these worthy seamen laid claim to the Amistad and its cargo - including the kidnapped Africans - setting off an epic legal battle that was settled in the Supreme Court with a 7-1 decision mandating the Africans' freedom.

Davis's score will be laden with a classical opera foundation, but the composer's palette also includes jazz, R&B, gospel, and African music. Performers from five continents will grace the festival this year, typical for the greatest arts festival on earth in its 32nd edition.

Here are some of the bigger names, listed by their ports of call:

South America
One word says it all: samba! Every year, Michael Grofsorean brings fresh imports to the jazz lineup who are fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, or Antion Carlos Jobim. Another Brazilian bumper crop arrives for 2008, beginning with the American debut of Sao Paolo pianist Heloisa Fernandes (May 26-28). A sampling of her virtuosity at the Spoleto website tells me she's the real deal. Classical flutist Paula Robison (June 6), a chamber music mainstay at Spoleto since its early days, shares the stage with two esteemed Brazilians, guitarist Romero Lubambo amd percussionist Cyro Baptista.

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