At Spoleto Festival, Revisiting a Fateful Chapter in Slavery

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Charleston, SC: Not so often do new American operas find life after birth. But Anthony Davis’s “Amistad,” a historically inspired exploration of slavery and freedom, has come back to the stage 11 years after its debut at the Chicago Lyric Opera, and in a deeply resonant setting.

It is the central work at this summer’s Spoleto Festival U.S.A., whose host is Charleston, a city fully freighted with slavery’s legacy. The relevance has not been lost on African-Americans involved: the composer, the librettist, performers and audience members.

“This is one of the main ports of slavery,” said Gregg Baker, who sings the part of Cinque, leader of the band of captive Africans who are the subject of the story. “To do it down here was a bit, I guess, ironic. Slavery basically built this town.”

Mr. Baker spoke at an outdoor reception after the opening-night performance of “Amistad” on Thursday at the newly restored Memminger Auditorium, this city’s latest pride and joy and a major performance space of the festival. Spoleto U.S.A., a celebration of opera, chamber music, jazz, theater and dance, has begun its 32nd season and runs through June 8. Rossini’s “Cenerentola” and “Monkey: Journey to the West,” a pop opera incorporating martial arts, acrobatics, singing and video projections, opened on Friday night.

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