Family trades West Ashley suburbs for life aboard a boat roaming the Caribbean islands and more

Josie Harler, 16, has been traveling the East Coast and Caribbean with her family on a sailboat since she was 12. Her favorite spot to have some time for herself is the mast.

The bells of St. Michael's Church heralded the opening ceremonies of the 34th annual Spoleto Festival USA and its companion Piccolo Spoleto Festival on Friday, a sun-splashed day of straw hats, shorts and Italian ice.

Calling the festival a "marriage between an artistic vision and a particular place," Spoleto board Chairwoman Martha Rivers Ingram welcomed attendees to celebrate the new season and contribute to such ongoing revitalization efforts as that of the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium.

Speakers at the ceremonies outside Charleston City Hall included Michael Colgan, director of Gate Theatre Dublin, and Mayor Joe Riley, followed by an explosion of confetti.

Those on hand were treated to Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" by the Piccolo Spoleto Brass Ensemble; a stirring rendition of the national anthem by tenor Robert McPherson, a star of the opera "Flora"; and a surprise performance by "Olga Supphozova" (Charleston native Robert Carter), a star of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, which opened its three-day run with a performance Friday night at the Gaillard.

"What's rare is wonderful," said Colgan, quoting his mother in reference to the festival.

Riley said: "The passion of the artists to excel mirrors life's duty to seek the best and to be the best, to reject mediocrity."

Riley also celebrated the 750 events of Piccolo Spoleto and its driving force, Ellen Dressler Moryl, while echoing Graham's call to make a new Gaillard "the jewel in a sparkling new crown."

Spoleto overview

Its restoration complete, the Dock Street Theatre reopens with a Spoleto Festival USA production of "Flora," the first opera ever performed in the American Colonies.

Other festival highlights include the U.S. premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's opera "Proserpina"; Geoff Nuttall in his new role as the festival's director for chamber music; the return of Dublin's Gate Theatre in Noel Coward's "Present Laughter"; the Colla Marionette Company's production of Franz Joseph Haydn's marionette opera "Philemon and Baucis"; the ballet "Giselle," danced by Nina Ananiashvili and the National Ballet of Georgia; and the revival of Lucinda Childs' "Dance," a seminal collaboration with Philip Glass and Sol LeWitt.

Also on tap are the festival debuts of jazz vocalists Lizz Wright, Norma Winstone and Fabiana Cozza; the U.S. premiere of Daniel MacIvor's "This Is What Happens Next"; and the return of festival favorites the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who will headline the Festival Finale.

Piccolo overview

The 32nd annual Piccolo Spoleto Festival, produced and directed by the city of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, features the Spotlight Chamber Music Series, which will focus on American music spanning three centuries; a broad visual arts program anchored by a contemporary Charleston art exhibit at the City Gallery; the free Sunset Serenade, an outdoor pops concert at the U.S. Customhouse featuring the Charleston Symphony Orchestra; and the Children's Festival in Marion Square.

The Piccolo Spoleto Finale will be a centerpiece of a communitywide project dubbed Unity Day, unfolding at Brittlebank Park, Hampton Park and Riley Park.

Piccolo Spoleto is the official outreach program of Spoleto Festival USA.

Reach Bill Thompson at bthompson@postandcourier.com or 937-5707.