CHARLESTON, S.C. - The Spoleto Festival USA celebrates renewed ties with its namesake festival in Italy and features a new version of the opera


during its 17-day season, which opened yesterday.

The opera, which is being performed in a newly renovated theater in this city where the Civil War began, tells of the 1839 revolt by enslaved Africans on the schooner Amistad.

The festival opening coincides with a visit from the Freedom Schooner Amistad, a replica of the original that sails from port to port telling the story of the revolt.

The U.S. Supreme Court freed the Africans in a ruling that galvanized the abolitionist cause in the North. The replica of the Amistad is docked on the Cooper River, just a few miles from Sullivans Island, where tens of thousands of slaves first arrived in the United States.

"From what happened on the Amistad story we can see that we are more alike than not alike as human beings," said Bill Pinkney, the captain of the schooner. "As we travel anywhere in the world, we see people have the same desires for peace, longevity, and a hope for a better future."

Composer Anthony Davis decided to write an Amistad opera in the 1980s, and his production premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago 11 years ago, the same year the Steven Spielberg film about the Amistad was released.

For Spoleto, Davis has reworked part of the score. The production is being presented in the round at Memminger Auditorium, which recently underwent $6 million in renovations.

"When I first started on it, it wasn't well-known at all, but it had a fascination for artists through the years," he said. "Prior to the opera and the movie there were a lot artistic treatments, and I think it resonates with understanding America."

This year's Spoleto features more than 100 dance, music and theatrical performances.

The Charleston festival and the Festival of Two Worlds in Italy announced this year that they plan to resume the partnership they enjoyed 15 years ago.

The arts festivals hope to share productions beginning next year, and Emmanuel Villaume, the American festival's director of opera and orchestra, plans to conduct the opera


at the Italian festival, which runs from June 27 through July 13.

Composer Gian Carlo Menotti created the Italian festival a half century ago, and then created the Spoleto Festival USA here in 1977. The festivals worked together, but the collaboration ended in 1993 when Menotti left the American festival in a dispute over money and his successor.

The composer died last year at the age of 97.

Other productions at this year's Charleston festival include the music theater production

Monkey: Journey to the West

; performance artist Laurie Anderson's


; and the Nottingham Playhouse Theater production of

Burial at Thebes