Curtain falls as Spoleto nears box office record

CHARLESTON, S.C. --- The Spoleto Festival USA wraps up its 35th season this weekend with the internationally known event approaching a box office record.


"It's on its way to be a record box office, but it's less than a record than we hoped it would be," said festival General Director Nigel Redden as Spoleto entered its final weekend.

The festival this year increased its budget by almost $1 million to $7.3 million. The box office record is just under $3 million.

The festival closes today with a concert by the Del McCoury Band at Middleton Place Plantation outside Charleston followed by the traditional fireworks display. It's the second season in a row the festival, which traditionally has offered a symphonic concert for the closing, has ended with bluegrass.

Last season, Spoleto closed with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group that plays fiddle and banjo music from the piedmont region of the Carolinas.

But Redden said the festival isn't going country.

"We had a jazz theme some time ago, then we went back to the orchestra. Now we have bluegrass, and we may go back to the orchestra in the future," he said.

The reason is logistical as much as artistic.

Without a closing concert, the Spoleto orchestra can stay in Charleston and the festival can offer opera through the last weekend. With a symphonic finale, the orchestra loses the last weekend to rehearsals and sound checks at Middleton, he said.

One of the three operas this season was Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium --- the first time the festival staged a Menotti opera since the composer left 18 years ago in a dispute over his successor.

He died in 2007 at age 95 and never reconciled with the festival he started here in 1977, which was modeled after the festival he founded in Spoleto, Italy.

When Spoleto opened last month, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and festival officials called on South Carolina to increase its support of Spoleto. This year, Spoleto received only $14,000 from the state for a festival estimated to pump $55 million annually into the local economy.

Redden said he's optimistic state funding will be increased sometime in the future.

"I'm an optimist or else I wouldn't be in this business," he said. "I do think the investment in the festival from the point of view of the state has been a great investment. Each year we return more money -- far more money than the state used to give us."

A few years back, the state was giving as much as a half million dollars to the festival.

Redden said while some have suggested that the festival lobby for more money, others on the festival board say it might not be very fruitful just now because of the tight state budget.

One thing outside of organizers' control is the weather. It has been a hot, dry festival, which has been good for ticket sales.

"We have had terrific weather," Redden said. "We have had a lot of outdoor performances, and none of them have been rained out."