CHAUTAUQUA - Next Saturday means as much to local arts lovers as the World Series or the Super Bowl do to sports lovers. It marks the opening of the 2009 season of the Chautauqua Institution.
For nine weeks, Chautauqua will bring professional artists in virtually all the art forms, directly into the heart of Chautauqua County. Each year I am asked by many readers for my suggestions of what they should see, if they aren't among the lucky few who can afford both the time and the money to spend every day at the Institution.
Naturally, it's a matter of taste, and the best advice is to get a season program and carefully plan what you can and will attend. But, this is an arts column, and if we don't make a big splash about Chautauqua, we just wouldn't be doing our job.
Robert W. Plyler
So, here is a discussion of what's coming, and my personal suggestions for those who must choose only a few offerings:
HOW TO VISIT
A visit to Chautauqua can be daunting for those of us who live outside its gates. There are a few sensible policies and procedures which seem perfectly obvious to those who have been following them for years, but which may be difficult to intuit for the occasional visitor. Let me try and explain a few of them:
Chautauqua strives to be an auto-free zone. A few autos are admitted to the ground, but only for good cause. The rest of us are asked to park outside the grounds. For most of us, that will mean entering the main parking lot, the entrance of which is opposite the Institution's main gate.
You pay to park, then find an empty spot in the giant lot. Place the small placard they give you on your dashboard, to surrender when you drive out. Small trams cruise around the rows of cars, and will take you, free of charge, down to the edge of Route 394. There is a traffic signal there which will enable you to walk across the highway, purchase tickets to what you wish to see, and enter the Institution itself. Just inside the second gate, turn right, and you will see a large bus stop, from which you can get free transport by bus or tram, to whatever part of the Grounds you wish to visit. If you can walk easily, that is by far the best way to get around.
If you are handicapped, you should turn into the small parking lot which is located behind the Main Gate Building - it looks like a red brick train station, stretching along Route 394. You can park in that lot for 30 minutes and discuss the best solution for you, inside the gate building. You may well be eligible for handicapped parking, inside the Grounds. The entrance to that lot is immediately on the Jamestown side of the gate building.
The cost of entering Chautauqua depends on how long you are there, and what is being performed while you are there. Therefore, it is important that you keep your tickets until you leave the grounds, as proof of how long you were there. Entering, staying for a long time, then telling the people at the gate that you accidentally threw away your tickets, but you've only been there a short while, is not only dishonest, it's unlikely to work.
To enter the 5,000+ seat Amphitheater during evening performances, you'll need to show your ticket at the gates to the theater, as well as at the gates to the Grounds.
Most short-term visitors are going to one of three sites:
If you need directions somewhere else, ask at the counter in the gate building. Please don't stop in the gate and discuss with the ticket takers, while people line up behind you.
Now let's look at the performers and presenters who are coming our way:
Each season, the Chautauqua Opera Company, under the direction of Jay Lesenger, presents four operatic productions. Each production is performed on a Friday evening and the subsequent Monday evening. All performances are accompanied by instrumentalists from the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, and are performed in English.
Leading roles in all four are usually performed by leading professional singers from our country's large opera companies. Smaller roles are performed by apprentice artists in the company's training program. Chorus parts are largely sung by students in the Chautauqua Opera Workshop, who are generally less experienced than apprentice artists.
This season's operas are these: ''The Troubadour'' or ''Il Trovatore'' by Giuseppe Verdi, ''The Consul'' by Gian Carlo Menotti, ''Tosca'' by Giacomo Puccini, and ''The Pirates of Penzance'' by Gilbert and Sullivan.
Each of the four is quite different from the others. The Gilbert and Sullivan piece is typical, rollicking English nonsense. ''Tosca'' is high drama with those golden Puccini melodies. ''The Troubadour'' is a huge piece, famous for its ''Anvil Chorus,'' and its rather unlikely plot.
My choice would be ''The Consul,'' because it is very intimate and wonderfully relevant - as much today as when it opened on Broadway in the 1950s. If you don't like modern music, you might prefer one of the others.
Young singers from the company have recently performed two evenings per season as soloists with the CSO, typically one evening of classical music and one of lighter music. This year, see the classical concert on July 25, and the pops concert on Aug. 8.
The Chautauqua Theater Company presents three full productions each summer plus two workshop presentations of brand new plays whose authors are still in the writing process. The company is headed by Ethan McSweeny and Vivienne Benesch.
Plays are presented, usually for a number of days, sometimes in the evening and sometimes in the afternoon. Be certain to check your schedule for correct curtain times.
The plays are all professionally directed, designed, choreographed, costumed, etc. The majority of the casts are members of the conservatory, who are young professional actors who are usually college and post-graduate students with a major in theater, who have been accepted from among hundreds of hopefuls from all over the U.S. Professional actors are used for roles which are not age appropriate for the conservatory actors, or when a particular quality is needed in a role. Conservatory members receive extensive training and teaching, at Chautauqua, in addition to the opportunities to perform.
This year's full productions will be ''Arcadia'' by Tom Stoppard, ''The Glass Menagerie'' by Tennessee Williams, and ''The Winter's Tale,'' by William Shakespeare. The New Play Workshops will be ''Rx'' by Kate Fodor, and ''The Further Adventures of Suzanne and Monica'' by Alex Lewin.
''The Winter's Tale'' is fine Shakespeare, dealing with a king who begins to suspect his wife's fidelity for no good reason, leading him to increasingly monstrous behaviors. ''The Glass Menagerie'' is a wonderful examination of a young man who is torn between his personal needs and the genuine needs of his family. It's truly one of the finest of American plays.
My choice would be ''Arcadia,'' because it's new and challenging. It involves a series of events which take place in 1809 and a different series of events which take place in the same room in the present day. It plays with chaos theory, romanticism, and a wide variety of ideas and possibilities. If you don't like to be challenged, make another selection.
Since the new plays are new, I've never seen them, but I can tell you this: ''Rx'' was written by Kate Fodor, whose new play ''100 Saints You Should Know'' moved on from Chautauqua, three years ago, to a successful run Off Broadway, two years ago. The workshops are always wonderfully interesting for those who like to see and participate in the development stages of good writing.
The Chautauqua Dance Program involves a professional company, the Chautauqua Ballet Company, plus a number of performances by advanced students from their instructional programs. The North Carolina Dance Theatre spends part of the summer in residence on the grounds.
The Company is directed by former dancer and famed choreographer Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, assisted by choreographer Mark Diamond.
Bonnefoux is married to retired ballerina Patricia McBride, formally a star of the New York City Ballet and frequent inspiration for choreographer George Balanchine, that company's founder. She will be teaching in the program, as will Violette Verdy, also a retired principal dancer from NYCB. This year, the season's program will honor the two women, as well as Christina Giannini, the genius costume designer who keeps Chautauqua dancers as well turned out as any dancers in the world.
Bonnefoux has a reputation for excellence, and any of his company's performances is likely to be a delight. The professional dancers will perform in the Amphitheater on the following dates: July 2, 14, and 29, plus Aug. 5 and 15. Performances on Wednesday nights and July 2 are accompanied by recorded music. Performances on Tuesdays or Saturdays are accompanied by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.
The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs, generally on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The orchestra has demonstrated startling development in recent years. Under Music Director Stefan Sanderling and guest conductors of his choosing, their performances are always interesting, and often thrilling.
My choice, if I had to choose only one performance by the CSO would be July 23, when pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk will be guest soloist. Gavrylyuk had performed with the orchestra in the past with stunning success, and a solo performance in Jamestown for the Jamestown Concert Assn. has music lovers still talking in superlatives.
Other likely delights include Aug. 1, when the orchestra will perform Mahler's ''Resurrection'' Symphony, joined by professional soloists and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. Also, Aug 6, when a huge program will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the CSO's founding.
Also, on Aug. 22, guest soloists will be violinists Phillipe Quant and Vadim Gluzman, who will perform Bach's ''Concerto for Two Violins.''
Whether you enjoy traditional favorites, light-hearted pops, or challenging new music, there's sure to be something for you.
At the very beginning of the season and the very end, plus on Wednesday and Friday evenings, the Amphitheater is home to a variety of entertainments of all types.
June 29, for example, welcome Garrison Keillor back to Chautauqua with his famous National Public Radio show, ''A Prairie Home Companion.'' It's funny, it's musical, and it's likely to surprise you.
See Seinfeld's Jason Alexander on July 31, Elvis Costello on Aug. 29, Filmmaker Ken Burns on Aug. 3, Gordon Lightfoot on July 24, the Beach Boys on Aug. 21, or any of the other choices which suits your interests.
I'm looking forward to an evening with Anna Deavere Smith, on Aug. 12. She is a solo performance artist, famed for her ability to point out the ironies and possibilities of a wide variety of contemporary situations.