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Bedon’s Alley Party, May 22, 2009

Well, we’ve apparently gotten over our silly boeuf with France now, if the Bedon’s Alley Party last night is any indicator. Credit Spoleto Festival USA’s decision to produce Charpentier’s opera Louise and a willing crowd South of Broad, where that narrow sliver of a passageway was transformed into a bustling Parisian street scene, for doing more for international relations than any statecraft could devise. There were glorious crapes with just about every imaginable filling from oysters to tapenade, a pomme frites bar, roving mimes and an accordion player—and oh yes, the plus grande caldron of soup I’ve ever seen (and it was pretty big on taste too). On the wall of a building was projected French (I’m supposing, although there was no sound) films that nobody seemed to pay much attention to, except Nathalie Dupree did glance up once and ask about an animated feature that happened to be showing at the time, “What is that—it’s not Ratatouille, is it?” (leave it to a foodie to think of a movie title that’s a play on a French recipe).

Denise Barto, who’s designed the party for as long as anyone can remember, pulled out another showstopper. Funny thing is, she had a lot to work with already when transforming Bedon’s into a slice of Paris. The venue just plain worked for the theme. Over by the crêpe station, colorful table umbrellas made one cobblestone driveway look and feel just like a sidewalk café.

The crowd was fairly thin when I arrived with my friend Edward Hart. Edward, who’s a composer and assistant professor on the musical faculty at CofC, explained that this production of the French opera stretches a good three hours, so most of the apré opera crowd had yet to arrive. That left us some time to catch up with some friends from the George Street offices. Special Events Coordinator Scott Sowell, who was hanging out with Jeffery Rhodes, appeared surprisingly calm, but then I guess most of the hard work is already done (right, Scott?). General director Nigel Redden was as unflappable as ever, and seemed to be weathering the beating the arts world has taken from the recession with characteristic magnanimity. He was holding court with another Charleston icon (and Bedon’s Alley resident) Rainey Evans, who was looking very Parisian in a feather boa and black beret.

Edward introduced me to Louise director Sam Helfrich, who seemed quite pleased with opening night, and later Edward tried out his Ukrainian on an amused Stefania Dovhan, who’s singing the title role. Stefania was joined by her mother, and the pair were looking forward to exploring the city once all the soprano’s performances are done (they already had glowing reviews of what they'd seen of the town so far). Later on, Boris Bohun-Chudyniv regaled us with a Ukrainian folk song about the bewitching eyes of the girls from his native country.

How crazy is this? As the party was beginning to wind down, I was talking to Merrill Benfield about this Rolls Royce Club meeting in Charleston this week, and he told me about some fellow from New York (I think it was) who FedExed a vintage Rolls down here for the event. Apparently this fellow isn’t participating in the recession.

David Graham of the Spoleto office always gives good cause for a bit of speculation about what character he’s going to turn out as at any given Spoleto party. Year before last he made a killer Andy Warhol at a Scene party, and at last year’s BA party he pulled off a pretty good screaming Cinderella at the stroke of midnight. This year I only stuck around long enough to see him posing as a street artist. I haven’t yet heard if he pulled off one of his fabulous stunts as I was already doing good to make it to just shy of midnight before staggering back home to Wentworth Street. I’ll be sure to get the scoop from somebody at tonight’s gala at the Gaillard, though.

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