CHAUTAUQUA - A week from tonight, the Chautauqua Amphitheater will resound to the music of what is sure to be one of the favorite performances of the season: the original Broadway cast of the hit musical show ''Jersey Boys.'' That's virtually certain to be a smash hit.
Chautauqua, which has slept the past year away as a tiny, quiet village, not far from Mayville, will suddenly be attracting both performing artists and exhibiting visual artists, together with a huge audience who will come to our area from all over our country, and from sites throughout the rest of the world.
Our community, in return, will respond loudly and emphatically, from those who dream of thrilling to a brilliantly performed symphony or an inspiring lecture, to those who will spend the summer, complaining about those big, expensive cars with out-of-state license plates, driving slowly to enjoy views of the lake, in front of those of us who need to get to work before the boss gets angry.
In just over a week, Chautauqua Institution will be starting its familiar summer season, attracting some of the finest artists in the world and some of the most interesting people in the world to our corner of the world.
Any big event, from the opening of Chautauqua to the holding of the Olympic Games, has a big impact on the area in which it is located. The sports pages would be remiss if they ignored the opening of the Olympics. This arts column would be remiss if we failed to celebrate the opening of Chautauqua.
Each year, I get dozens of contacts from readers who either aren't able or who can't afford to attend everything in Chautauqua's rich smorgasbord of program offerings, wanting what are commonly called ''critic's picks.'' I always tell people, they're better off to get a copy of the program, mark the dates when they are available to attend, and then imagine how the events scheduled for their available hours might match up with their tastes and interests.
Still, it's enjoyable to read the list of available activities, and to give some public thought to which might be the most interesting. It's all a matter of taste, but I'm happy to share my suggestions for your consideration. Just please remember, sometimes one element of the Chautauqua program performs together with a different one. The ballet company performs together with the symphony orchestra, for example, so suggestions for those cross-overs may be offered with any of the contributing art forms.
The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra gives Chautauquans a rare opportunity to have their own symphony orchestra. They can attend public rehearsals, often held during afternoons in the giant Amphitheater, which has a roof, but whose walls are open to the air, so that anyone can see or hear.
Members of the orchestra live in and among the Chautauqua community, and are easy to politely stop to ask a question. They often offer lessons during their non-performing hours, sometimes present lectures in various classes and other public forums, giving the perspective of professional musicians who are easily accessed.
The orchestra's Music Director is Stefan Sanderling, now in his second season in that position. He will conduct many of the season's performances, offering the podium to a number of talented guest conductors, and even to his predecessor in the position, Maestro Uriel Segal.
I love the dance programs at Chautauqua, and always recommend them, as well as those that involve the institution's opera and theater companies. But, I'll discuss those later.
For total orchestra performances, I'm most anticipating July 15 and 20, when Maestro Segal will be on the podium, and guest artist Alexander Gavrylyuk will perform piano concertos by Liszt and Chopin, respectively. I anticipate fireworks from the keyboard on both evenings.
July 27, guest artist Grant Cooper will conduct the orchestra, performing with soprano Janet Brown. Both of them are familiar from many performances at Fredonia's annual Bach and Beyond Festival, and are dependable audience favorites. On that evening's program is a composition by Cooper, himself.
Lovers of pops concerts are sure to be especially fond of the July 3 concert, which is as close as the orchestra will get to our nation's birthday celebration, this year, because it falls on Sunday. Expect a Sousa march, a Gershwin tune, the Superman March and of course the 1812 Overture, to set your blood pumping.
Imagine that you received in the mail, a registered letter, informing you that you have been proven to be a distant descendant of the great artist Leonardo Da Vinci, and that it has been determined that you are the sole owner of the Mona Lisa, a great cultural treasure.
Although the painting is so valuable, it is virtually invaluable, in order to claim ownership, you will need to travel to Paris, where it now hangs, and arrange for the painting to be transported, insured, protected from the elements, etc. The expenses would easily run into the millions, more than most of us could possibly afford.
Here are a few of the possible solutions to the problem:
Chautauqua officials have inherited from their predecessors Chautauqua Opera, which is a great cultural treasure. It is more than 80 years old, the oldest continuously-operating summer opera company in our nation, and one of the oldest companies anywhere in our nation.
In the sad economic situation in which we find ourselves at this time, the institution has found itself challenged to meet the expenses of the company. I am completely in sympathy with that problem.
But guess which possible solution to the problem seems to be now in operation.
Perhaps they have researched the possibility of moving Chautauqua productions on to Erie or to Buffalo or somewhere else, for additional income. Perhaps they have weighed the possibility of a season or two of chamber operas or concert operas with limited or no technology and reduced costs in casts and instrumentalists, to weather the bad economy and offer lovers of opera an opportunity to step up and try to save the company.
They might have considered more frequent performances, done in repertory, so that it is possible to hear several productions over a limited number of days, instead of having only one opportunity, every two weeks. That's how Glimmerglass does it. It's possible that opera lovers who don't find it worth the cost and trouble to travel to Chautauqua to hear one opera would make the journey to hear three or four.
Maybe they've stepped up publicity efforts, offering interview opportunities and feature story suggestions to media representatives in advance of performances or performances by talented younger singers in neighboring communities as the Institution did once with soprano Julia Lovett, back in the 1970s. I know many people who attended their first opera because she sang in their Sunday School class or their music classroom, and they loved it.
I have asked several long time opera supporters and life-long season ticket holders if they had received notification that there was a problem for the company. They said they did not. If there was a press release about changes in the program, or whether the institution is making any effort to salvage it, or are merely plotting its utter demise, we didn't get that release.
The color season brochure says, under the heading ''Opera Company,'' that ''This summer includes a full schedule of concerts, recitals, music theater revues and scenes programs.'' It doesn't mention that this season includes only three performances of two evenings of opera.
July 17, only, in the Amphitheater, hear the Chautauqua premiere of ''Norma,'' by Bellini. Leads will be sung by Barbara Quintiliani and Elizabeth Bishop. Joseph Colaneri will conduct. If you can only hear one, hear that one.
July 30 and Aug. 2, probably the best-known double bill of operas in history, ''Cavalleria Rusticana'' and ''I Pagliacci'' will be Norton Hall's only offerings. It hasn't been offered at Chautauqua since 1956. It should be very good, as well.
Chautauqua used to be peopled mostly by clergymen and teachers, most of whom can now afford to go there rarely, if ever. Maybe the new Chautauquans lack the cultural sophistication which keeps Toronto's Four Seasons Performing Arts Center filled to virtual capacity at every performance. If so, it's sad - indeed, heartbreaking. And, if anybody is trying to save the situation, they've done a brilliant job of keeping it quiet.
In recent years, the Chautauqua Theater Company has stepped forward, from often being the least promising element of the season, to now being the most promising.
If anyone is going to call me during a Chautauqua season and ask, ''How can we get something about us into the newspaper?'' it's going to be the good folks in theater. That's a healthy sign.
Theater has suffered a relatively minor cutback this season, in the current economy. From three full productions, each running a period of days, plus two staged readings of newly-written plays, which many people find the most exciting element of the season, they have been reduced to two full productions in the Bratton Family Theater, plus the two staged readings, plus a single performance in the Amphitheater of Peter Shaffer's wildly successful, heavily-fictionalized biography of the composer Mozart, ''Amadeus.''
That will be July 22, and involves orchestra, singers, and actors. The company has acquired a newly-created version of the play which includes live performances of many Mozart compositions, as did the Oscar-winning feature film of the story.
In an interesting development, the performers in that one evening will repeat the production at Artpark, with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under JoAnn Falletta taking the place of the Chautauqua Symphony. That will be July 24.
Lovers of Shakespeare will want to be certain to catch ''Macbeth,'' Aug. 13-21. Those who believe the summer is made for fun and entertainment will find plenty of both in the Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman classic ''You Can't Take It with You,'' which will play July 14-25.
The new play workshops will be July 1-4 and July 29-Aug. 1, and if I could only see one thing, it would be one of them. No abstract concepts nor flying Christmas trees will be found in the current season.
Dance at Chautauqua includes the Institution's own Ballet Company, plus the North Carolina Dance Theatre, which has done a residency each season at the Institution, and will do so again.
Both companies are under the direction of former New York City Ballet soloist and world-respected choreographer Jean-Paul Bonnefoux. Also, the dance students in the Chautauqua School of Ballet perform several times, often on Sunday afternoons, when there is no gate fee, and you can attend the performance for the cost of parking.
The dance at Chautauqua is always very good. The movement is disciplined and has been created and taught by top-notch professionals. Those who especially love the creations of the late George Balanchine, who created the New York City Ballet as an instrument on which to offer his choreography, will find Balanchine's philosophies of speed, musicality, ensemble, rather than star performance, and innovation, being taught by a number of his former dancers, including the exquisite Mme. Bonnefoux, who is probably better known as the brilliant ballerina Patricia McBride.
See the professional company on July 1, 13, and 28, plus Aug. 4, and 14. Enjoy the Festival Company of pre-professional dancers on July 26. Enjoy the student Sunday performances on July 18 and Aug. 15. And remember, we're not talking Miss Mathilda's School of Dance, here, these young people are great!
And if you're free one more Sunday, trot out the road on Aug. 1, to catch the Junior Guilders from the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown.