In the summertime, Italy can be a bit crowded and a little toasty. But if you’ve got a yen for the arts – especially music – chances are you’d be willing to overlook the excessive number of visitors and even the weather to enjoy one of the world’s premiere arts-related festivals – the Festival Dei Dui Mondi, the Festival of Two Worlds.
Founded in 1958 by composer Gian Carlo Menotti, this incredible festival, which – for 15 years – was paired with a sister festival in Charleston, South Carolina, offers locals and visitors almost three weeks full of performances by seasoned professionals (many well known) in disciplines that include opera, dance, theater, fine art, and a variety of other genres ranging from choral music to contemporary musical offerings. It’s two weeks of total immersion into the arts, and visitors can purchase tickets to as few or as many performances as they wish.
What You’ll See and Hear
The program at the Spoleto Festival changes each year, but you will find some repeat performers every now and then. Happily, the groups are international and you just might be rewarded with something you’ve never seen or heard before. It’s not unusual, for example, to watch a modern dance company from New York City perform one evening and then hear traditional Japanese music in the same spot the next. You can be sure, however, that all the groups were carefully selected before given a spot at this acclaimed festival.
Often, audience members will have the opportunity to hear premieres of a new work, such as an opera or a choral piece or perhaps a groundbreaking new theatrical production. In addition, however, you’re likely to find some old favorites on the program, such as major symphonic works or a classic opera.
All of the productions are held at venues throughout Spoleto, which was chosen by Menotti (who died in 2007) because this lovely Perugian town boasted two indoor theaters as well as an outdoor Roman theaters, numerous churches, and several other spots that were ideal for such a festival. In addition, Menotti loved the small town feel of Spoleto and its undisputable beauty, and thought the setting ideal for a summer festival.
If you’re interesting in being in Spoleto for the festival, it’s a wise idea to start your accommodations shopping early and to secure at least some tickets for the performances you’re really interested in attending while you are there. As some venues are much smaller than others, tickets can be quite limited, though productions that the festival suspects will be popular are generally held in the larger venues, if suitable. You can also purchase tickets once you arrive, in case you find yourself with some free time.
Other Things to Do and See in Spoleto
Situated at the foot of the Apennines in east-central Umbria, Spoleta is most known for its beauty and rich history. So, if you’re hoping to do some sightseeing while you’re there, your time will mostly be consumed by viewing ancient and historic structures, including a few wonderful palazzi, aqueducts, B.C.-era bridges, and a fourteenth century fortress.
The city’s Duomo – the Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunta – is magnificent, built in the late 12th/early 13th century. Several other churches are also notable, including the remains of the 5th century Basilica of San Salvatore, the Romanesque-style San Giorgio Maggiore, and the 13th century, pink stoned gothic church of San Domenico. Awesome!
If museums are your thing, check out the Palazzo Collicolla modern art museum, which has quite an impressive collection for a small museum. You’ll find some Alexander Calder pieces in here as well as throughout Spoleto. Ancient art lovers should be sure to visit the Diocesan Museum at the Church of Saint Eufemia, which displays wonderful pieces of religious art from the Middle Ages through the Baroque era.
The National Archaeological Museum also has an interesting collection. The museum adjoins the Roman amphitheater and its displays include English-written explanations of what you’re seeing, which doesn’t happen very often in Italy, especially in the small towns.
Whatever you wish to see, know that it’s not difficult to explore the city on foot. As a matter of fact, that’s the best way to do it. Many of the attractions are quite close together so it’s easy to visit several spots all in the scope of just a few hours…and sightseeing is certainly a nice time filler between concerts.