The connections are transcontinental (Noah and his ark dry out to "You Are My Sunshine"), the themes are as grand as Judgment Day. Considered by many to have surpassed its Italian namesake, this year's Spoleto Festival USA hosts performers from South Africa to Ireland, as well as some of America's jazz greats—Hank Jones, Toots Thielemans, Tierney Sutton. Broomhill Opera's Yiimimangaliso: The Mysteries sets a medieval cycle of biblical tales—told in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Zulu—to a score that mixes 13th-century carols and oil drums. Chinese director Chen Shi-Zheng mounts an elegant production of Wagner's Flying Dutchman, while Irish playwright Brian Friel follows two Chekhov characters beyond the final curtain in Afterplay. Charleston, S.C.; May 24—June 9; 843/579-3100.