After a nearly 15-year-split, Spoleto Festival USA and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, will once more unite to present artistic programs.
Both comprehensive arts festivals were founded by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, and they shared performers and productions until they split in 1993 over personality differences and funding issues.
Spoleto Festival USA General Director Nigel Redden told The Post and Courier on Tuesday that "Spoleto Festival USA owes its name to its relationship with the Festival of Two Worlds and therefore all of us at the Spoleto Festival USA are very pleased that our partnership will be revived in 2009. Indeed, we have deeply regretted that the connection between the two festivals has not continued in recent years."
In 1993, after numerous disagreements with the Spoleto Festival USA board over money and artistic direction, Menotti severed ties with the American festival. In the process he forced major artists to choose between performing in Charleston or in Italy.
Menotti's decision was encouraged by his son, Francis Menotti, who disagreed with the Spoleto Festival USA board after it refused to allow him to head the Charleston festival if and when his father retired.
Gian Carlo Menotti remained as head of the Italian festival that he founded in 1958 until his death in 2007 at age 95. The younger Menotti then took over as artistic director, but the Italian government, which provides 65 percent of the festival's budget, was unhappy with his handling of the festival. According to Massimo Brunini, the mayor of Spoleto, it refused to fund the 2008 festival unless Francis Menotti stepped down, which he did in December.
Menotti was replaced by film director Giorgio Ferrara, who immediately began talking with Redden about reuniting the two festivals. Ferrara was in Charleston in March with Brunini and a group of Italian businessmen to establish a Spoleto tourism office here.
Emmanuel Villaume, music director for Opera and Orchestra for Spoleto Festival USA, and Alessio Vlad, music adviser to the Festival of Two Worlds, along with Redden and Ferrara, have agreed to explore shared opera and theater productions beginning with the 2009 season, Redden said.
Sharing the talent will begin even sooner. At this year's Festival of Two Worlds, Villaume will conduct the Italian premiere of Albert Roussel's rarely performed opera "Padmavati."
"We expect this to be the first of many collaborations between the two sister festivals, which may involve shared artists, and/or shared productions and presentations," Ferrara said.
Redden said that the finances of each festival will remain separate, a continuation of the policy from the founding of Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston in 1977.
"If we send an artist from our festival to Italy, the Italian Festival will pay that artist, and the same for our side," Redden said. "We will share the costs of producing the same opera or theater work, as has always been the case."
Redden said that according to reports from the European press, the Festival of Two Worlds has received a significant funding increase from the Italian government, which has supplied 65 percent of its overall 7 million-euro budget. The remainder is coming from various sponsorships.
"At the current exchange rate, that would be about a $10.5 million budget," Redden said. The budget for the 2008 Spoleto Festival USA is $7.8 million.
Chuck Volpe, who serves as chairman of the Italian Festival Committee of the Spoleto Festival USA board of directors, said, "We have had discussions within our board for a number of years as to how a relationship between the two festivals might develop once more."
And Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who collaborated with Gian Carlo Menotti to establish the Charleston festival, said, "All of us in Charleston are deeply indebted to the town of Spoleto and the festival that is so much a part of that town. It will be very fitting to bring the two festivals closer together."