Opera House celebration is a tribute to community


The Fredonia Opera House entrance on the Temple Street side of Village Hall. The village has a $1.2 million state grant in its pocket for renovations to the venue,

As the crowd’s anticipation grew in the Fredonia Opera House for the featured showing of “Downton Abbey,” Rick Davis took advantage of the engaged audience to offer an invitation. This Sunday, the executive director told the crowd, a special 25th anniversary celebration “Fredonia on Stage! — 25 Years Later” would be taking place.

Right after his pitch, the soothing voice of Dan Berggren came over the sound system welcoming those in attendance to the movie. It’s a tradition that members have come to expect when they show up to be entertained.

It almost did not happen.

Around 1983 is when village residents began hearing of potential plans to demolish the historic Victorian structure at Temple and Church streets. This news motivated a number of community residents to become involved and work to halt these plans and form the Fredonia Preservation Society.

About 10 years ago, the OBSERVER published a special section celebrating the 15-year anniversary of the Opera House. One of the articles included in the section was written by Elizabeth “Kris” Beal who was of the key drivers in saving the building.

“First, I wrote a very strong letter to the mayor and trustees of Fredonia, describing that corner without the village landmark,” wrote Beal, who passed away in 2012. “It would be a flat piece of land next to a parking lot, highlighting a convenience store. That began my two years of ensuring that we had a dedicated committee which met regularly to remain informed and provide constant attendance at all board meetings.

“While engineers and building inspectors were brought in to justify razing the Victorian structure, we researched and compiled information supporting the critical importance of retaining and restoring this historic landmark.”

That committee’s work paid off — and is celebrated in a sense on Sunday. Davis, who has been the Opera House director for almost 14 years, understands the significance.

“This an incredible deal … and particularly to those who had a vision 25 years ago that we could become a cultural center for the arts here in Fredonia,” he said in an interview earlier this week. “Their vision has come true.”

Sunday’s performance, which begins at 3 p.m., is meant to showcase all the Opera House offers in its variety of entertainment today, Davis said. It also gives a tip of the cap to the opening night show of 1994, which still is the most attended event held at the facility.

Adding a bit more nostalgia to the happening is the return of Berggren and the Newton Street Irregulars 2.0, which represents the Folk in Fredonia Music series. “It means a lot that Dan will be coming back to perform,” Davis said. “It’s a nice connection to our opening 25 years ago and truly they are one of the few groups that are still in existence from that opening night show.

Other featured performers include: the Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet; Julie Costantini, Jenn Davis and Katie Ryan representing live music and the Broadway On Screen Series; Fr. Sean Duggan, Brian Eckenrode and Brian Walnicki representing the Bach & Beyond Baroque Music Festival; Pianist Trevor Napoli representing live classical music; actress Christina Rausa representing live theatre and the National Theatre Live Series; In Jest’s Nels Ross representing family-focused entertainment; and the band Big Tone representing live popular music and tribute shows.

Once the Opera House event concludes, festivities move to the Beaver Club for the FanTableous Fete II, which will be a reception and auction. Light hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar and live music will be featured with the live auction of 10 handmade, artist-decorated, three-legged, fan-shaped corner tables during the reception.

Tickets for Fredonia On Stage! — 25 Years Later are $25. Tickets to FanTableous Fete II are $20, but are becoming limited. Both may be purchased in person at the Opera House Box Office or by phone at 679-1891 from 1 to 5 p.m. today. Tickets also may be purchased online at www.fredopera.org.

For Davis, whose job is a labor of love, it is one more exciting milestone at the venue he oversees. “It’s been the most satisfying and rewarding position I have held in my career,” he said.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.