Conductors, musicians, actors, and dancers at Spoleto Festival USA usually come from around the globe, not Charleston. But this year the operas Mese Mariano and Le Villi are tapping into the talents of local performers — some of whom are only in elementary school.
A dozen children will sing as the orphan chorus in Umberto Giordano's Mese Mariano, the tale of a woman guilt-wracked about leaving her child at an orphanage. For Giacomo Puccini's Le Villi, a dozen dancers from Dance FX will be the fairies who torment men who abandon women.
"When they said they wanted to work with us, I was like 'Are you kidding? Pinch me,'" says Jenny Broe, Dance FX's executive director. "It's almost too good to be true."
The company, which focuses on modern and jazz fusion dance, has been in Charleston for five years. "We've spent a lot of time getting our name out there and getting local recognition and it seems to be working," Broe says. "This will really give us a higher profile."
Le Villi is described as an opera-ballet and involves extensive dance sequences. The choreographer and assistant director is Pigi Vanelli, who has worked with director Stefano Vizioli. The opera is set in the 1950s. "Because of this vision of the plot, the choreography is based on modern dance theater," Vizioli says.
The dancers started rehearsals in April to prepare for the seven performances.
One of the "orphans" for Mese Mariano is 10-year-old Maggie McKay. She and other children learned about the call for young chorus members through Charleston Stage's youth programs. Maggie sings, dances, takes lessons in both, and has been in two plays. She's a big fan of musical theater — Wicked and Phantom of the Opera are among her favorites — but has never seen an opera.
"It's really fun and exciting to be singing in Italian and learning a new language," says the Mt. Pleasant Academy fourth-grader. "I'm too excited to be nervous."