CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Spoleto Festival USA, underfunded but still ambitious, begins a 17-day run this weekend with a diverse menu of opera, chamber and orchestral music as well as dance, jazz, theater and visual arts.
'It's the most exciting festival we've ever done,' said General Manager Philip Semark. 'We always try to top the year before.'
The fine arts extravaganza, struggling with money problems that forced some substitutions in this season's program, officially opens its 9th season at noon Friday with City Hall ceremonies at Charleston's famed 'Four Corners of Law.'
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., Gov. Dick Riley and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who founded Spoleto USA in 1977, will participate in the hour-long program.
The festival, sister to the Italian event of the same name, leads off with a big gun on Friday night, 'La Fanciulla del West' (The Girl of the Golden West), a new production of Puccini's classic melodrama directed by Australian film-maker Bruce Beresford.
Beresford, who directed the films 'Tender Mercies' and 'Breaker Morant,' will be making his operatic debut in the production set in California's Gold Rush days.
'This is an extravagant production,' said Semark. 'It's very authentic California, with lots of wooden cabins, trees, snow and mountains. It's like a re-creation of the Sierra.'
Also on the opening night agenda is the play, 'Tent Meeting,' which Time Magazine called 'an uproarious portrait of a daffy Southern family.' This is a substitute for 'Inner Voices,' a humorous drama about post-Fascist Italy, which had to be canceled because of higher-than-budgeted production costs.
Officials said 'Inner Voices' may be presented at the 1986 Spoleto Festival.
Another postponement was Mozart's 'The Marriage of Figaro,' which was replaced by Handel's 'Ariodante,' an opera from the English Baroque period that will be 'extraordinary and elegant,' Semark said.
Plans also are to do 'Figaro' next year, he said.
Charleston Trident Chamber of Commerce officials estimate the festival brings in more than $46 million in direct and indirect expenditures in the Charleston area, but funding for the events themselves is a continuing problem.
Ticket sales have been going briskly, said Semark, with over $800,000 worth sold. A sellout would be $1.4 million. However, ticket revenues cover only half of the cost of the festival, which ended last year with a $200,000 deficit.
'That has been taken care of with a fund-raising drive by the board,' Semark said. 'We still face a substantial fund-raising challenge this year. We'll need between $200,000 and $250,000 by the end of our fiscal year in August.'
One fund-raising project had to be canceled in March.
A $200-a-ticketlottery on a $185,000 house on the Isle of Palms was withdrawn for lack of public support. Spoleto Board Chairman Theodore S. Stern said 800 entries were needed to make the drawing profitable for the festival, and only 475 entries were received.
The money was refunded to ticket purchasers. ---
A feature of the festival will be a visit by 50 ambassadors to the United States on June 2. Officials said invitations were extended to the entire diplmatic corps in Washington and the first 50 acceptances will be invited to attend the festival with their wives.
'My goal is to make this visit such an extraordinary experience that the chiefs of mission will want to make this an annual trip,' said Stern.
Other events of the festival are a new dance series called 'Footprints in the Garden,' a series of shows by five dance troupes at the Garden Theater. The groups include The Bucket, the Oberlin Dance Collective, Mark Morris, Stephen Petronio and Timothy Buckly.
Events also are scheduled by two North American dance companies, Lewitzky Dance Company and Ballet Eddie Toussaint de Montreal, with jazz concerts by singer Sarah Vaughan and pianist Oscar Peterson, and various concerts by the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, the Westminster Choir, the Charleston Symphony Singers Guild and soloists.
Gibbes Art Gallery will present visual arts exhibitions by artists Roy Lichtenstein and Douglas Abdell as well as stage and costume designs from the Italian festival Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
Spoleto Festival USA ends with a concert at Middleton Place plantation June 9 by the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, conducted by Jahja Ling, associate conductor of the Cleveland orchestra, and a spectacular fireworks display.