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Showtime in Charleston

Cunningham piano used by George Gershwin © Charles and Mary Love

This is a big year for Charleston’s internationally renowned Spoleto Festival, a showpiece for the performing arts. If possible, try to visit in late spring and join the excitement!

The Festival marks its 40th anniversary with a new staging  of George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess, starring baritone Lester Lynch and soprano Alyson Cambridge. Sets have been designed by internationally acclaimed visual artist Jonathan Green, who is from the Gullah community that inspired Gershwin’s opera.  Charleston’s beautiful new  Gaillard Center, which reopened last fall after a multi-million dollar, three-year renovation, will be the venue.

Various related museum shows and walking tours will be offered around the city. For example, the Charleston History Museum will feature black and white images of Charleston during the 1920s and ’30s, period clothing and the upright Cunningham piano Gershwin used to compose Porgy and Bess. Six performances of the iconic folk opera will take place from May 27 – June 12.

The 3-week festival features more than 150 other performances in various venues, including dance, theatre, opera, pop and jazz music. Some of the highlights include Dublin’s Gate Theatre production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest; shows by dance troupes such as Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the L.A. Dance Project and Sadler’s Wells London (showcasing a Cuban-themed work Havana Rakatan); and concerts by bluegrass luminaries Old Crow Medicine Show as well as various chamber music and jazz groups.

Tickets and Information: 843-579-3100, spoletousa.org

Note on the photograph above: Cunningham pianos, like the one used by Gershwin (pictured above) to compose Porgy and Bess, were hand-made in Philadelphia by the Cunningham Piano Co., founded in 1891.  The founder, Patrick Cunningham, was an Irish immigrant and a well-trained craftsman and woodworker. His company thrived for many years and won awards for quality and design. After World War II, his successor, Louis Cohen, determined that building a small number of hand-made pianos was no longer a viable business model and transformed the company to focus on restoration and rebuilding of the top piano brands. He also relocated the company to Germantown, Pennsylvania.


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