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'The Medium' to honor founder

Three operas will take center stage at the 35th annual Spoleto Festival USA, which just announced the lineup for the festival that begins Memorial Day weekend.

The two-week performing arts blitz will feature the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho's "Emilie" with soprano Elizabeth Futral, an N.C. native who has been lauded for her refined performances with prestigious companies such as the New York City Opera and Metropolitan Opera, in the lead.

Then there's "The Magic Flute," Mozart's symbolism-laden opera, which will be conducted by Steven Sloane, Spoleto's former music director.

But the sentimental favorite to garner to most robust applause is "The Medium," Gian Carlo Menotti's two-act dramatic opera. Menotti, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, founded Spoleto in 1977 as an American companion to Festival dei Due Mondi, which he started in Spoleto, Italy, in 1958.

Menotti, who died in 2007, would have turned 100 this year. The production of "The Medium" will honor the centenary of his birth.

"It's a very strong opera and one that I think will be fascinating for audiences," Nigel Redden, Spoleto's general director, said.

John Pascoe will design and direct "The Medium," and Joseph Flummerfelt, the festival's artistic director for choral activities, will conduct the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra.

"The Medium," written during World War II, was Menotti's attempt to explore communication with the beyond. At the center of the production is a medium who claims she can connect with the dead.

"Obviously the medium is trying to swindle her customers," Redden said. "Then she realizes she really might be" communicating.

Menotti makes the theme of spirituality - and the inherent spirits involved - alluring.

"Gian Carlo has dealt with it in a way that is very, very strong," Redden said of Menotti, who wrote and composed the opera. "He's the consummate theater artist."

This year's festival isn't just for opera buffs, though. Once again, the programming includes theater, dance, music and contemporary takes on circus performance and visual arts. There will be more than 150 performances by almost 50 groups from around the world at 12 venues.

Here are some festival highlights:

Dance

Corella Ballet, based in Spain but created by Angel Corella, a star at American Ballet Theatre, has reinvigorated the classical form.

Cedric Andrieux, a contemporary dancer, will share his innovative steps - and moments of his life - in his performance.

For dancegoers big on lyrical movements, Shen Wei Dance Arts isn't to be missed.

Theater

Kneehigh Theatre, which performed "Tristan & Yseult" in 2006 and "Don John" in 2009, returns with an unexpected and possibly shocking version of "The Red Shoes," a Hans Christian Andersen classic.

Circa could be considered theater and dance, as this Australian circus company combines high-flying theatrics and choreography with humor.

Music

The Bank of America Chamber Music concerts, performed twice daily, will be directed by Geoff Nuttall and will feature world-class musicians.

"Comparison is Violence or the Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook" should suggest that Taylor Mac's performance will be drag-down hilarious.

"13 Most Beautiful ... Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests" will feature Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (of Dean and Britta fame; Wareham also was in the shoegaze luminaries Galaxie 500) performing original music accompanied by video projections of Warhol's rarely-seen silent-film portraits.

When Bela Fleck takes the stage, especially with the Flecktones, magic is bound to leap from their fingers and into your ears.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Dianne Reeves and Karrin Allyson headline the Wells Fargo Jazz concerts, but don't overlook the Argentine duo Willy Gonzalez and Micaela Vita.

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