Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why aren't you in Charleston?

You have four days left to get to one of the best Spoleto USA festivals I've attended in three decades of covering it. Here's a little taste of "Facing Goya," the opera with music by Michael Nyman. The woman in the center has obtained control of the skull of Spanish painter Francisco Goya; the four people circling her are not angels but scientists, who are trying to measure it in hopes of isolating a "talent gene."

This is Spoleto at its most typical: presenting a work you'll see almost nowhere else (this was its U.S. premiere) and hiring an inventive international director to challenge audiences. But not all of the festival was this cerebral: A theatrical adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's suspenseful novel "My Cousin Rachel" wanted nothing but to keep you at the edge of your Dock Street Theatre seat.

It's rare that everything I see there works for me, but I went six-for-six this year. Both operas ("Goya" and "Kat'a Kabanova"), the play, two chamber music concerts and an afternoon of virtuosity and high emotion from Hubbard Street Dance all left me smiling and/or thinking.

Maybe it's not important to love everything at Spoleto, anyhow. Like everybody, I entertain myself in ways that don't stimulate my brain: "Edge of Tomorrow," the excitingly shallow science fiction movie that opens tomorrow, is a perfect example. But I go to Spoleto to have my consciousness expanded.

An interesting artistic failure doesn't provide the same immediate pleasure as a less ambitious success. But I often find myself chewing it over later, wondering what other people saw in it that I didn't. When a festival takes you to new destinations, which Spoleto aims to do, the journey may be as important as the arrival.