Chautauqua Institution’s Amphitheater opens with a ribbon cutting and performances

The Amphitheater, shown June 29, 2017, was completed just prior to the opening of the 2017 season. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

The Amphitheater is the performing arts hub of Chautauqua Institution.

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will officially open the newly renovated Amp to the Chautauqua community. Over the past week, the Amp has been used for lectures and performances, so Sunday’s event will be a symbolic ceremony intended to celebrate the $41.5 million dollar project.

“When we talked about how to celebrate the opening of the Amphitheater … we wanted to try to do something that would include as many members of the community as possible,” said Geof Follansbee, CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation. “We also wanted an opportunity to showcase some of the people who use the facility on a regular basis.”

The ceremony will begin with formal remarks to acknowledge the many people who helped make the renovation possible and will culminate in the symbolic ribbon cutting. A matinee concert beginning at 2:30 p.m. will follow the official ceremony.

According to Vice President and Director of Programming Deborah Sunya Moore, the “performance half” of the program is designed to give Chautauquans “a pretty broad sampling of the arts here.”

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will open the program with Beethoven’s “The Consecration of the House” overture. The piece was first performed in 1822 for the reopening of the Josephstadt Theater in Vienna.

Elsewhere in the program, the CSO will accompany performances by the Chautauqua Opera Company, the Charlotte Ballet and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

The Chautauqua Opera Company will present the prologue to Ottorino Respighi’s realization of Claudio Monteverdi’s masterpiece L’Orfeo.

Scheduled for its full U.S. stage premiere at 8:15 p.m. July 8 in the Amp, L’Orfeo’s prologue is, according to Chautauqua Opera General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood, a perfect way to open the new Amp.

“The choice was immediate,” Osgood said.

In the opera’s prologue, the character of Music — played by Apprentice Artist mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson — introduces herself through song.

“I am music,” she sings, “who, in sweet accents, can calm each troubled heart. And now with noble anger, now with love, can kindle the most frigid minds.”

A salute from Music herself seemed appropriate for the dedication of the Institution’s primary performing arts center.

“That’s what we do in the Amphitheater,” Osgood said.

Osgood values the chance to work with other performing arts companies on the grounds.

“It’s an opportunity that few general directors of opera companies in the United States have,” Osgood said. “Because we are such a tightly knit community and because we see each other as colleagues and our time here is compressed, it’s this tinderbox of activity all fueled up and ready to go. The fact that there are these inter-arts collaborations highlights the uniqueness of what we have here at Chautauqua.”

The Music School Festival Orchestra will also help break in the new stage at Sunday’s event by performing a short fanfare by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. MSFO Conductor Timothy Muffitt said the piece blends well with the program because it’s based on the overture to L’Orfeo.

For the rest of the season, the Amphitheater will be the venue for the MSFO’s weekly Monday night performances. Muffitt said the renovation is a welcome upgrade for all the arts programs that work there.

“The new Amphitheater is state-of-the-art, probably much as the original Amp was state-of-the-art over a century ago,” Muffit said.

Muffitt said although the Amp is now “with the times,” it preserves the ambiance of the original.

“The audience will experience all the magic that the Amphitheater always had,” Muffitt said. “They’ve done a remarkable job at blending tradition and modernity.”

The event will also include non-musical performances. The Chautauqua Theater Company will contribute a performance by actor Lavour Addison, who will act out the prologue of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The piece itself is “grand and majestic,” much like the Amphitheater, Addison said. It’s the perfect bit of Shakespeare to perform for the opening, as it asks audiences to see action on the stage — referred to as an “unworthy scaffold” — but be transported to another place.

“In the piece, it’s talking about asking the audience for their participation, using their imagination and being open to what’s going to happen,” Addison said.

A first-time member of CTC conservatory, Addison will portray Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet this season. Last summer, Addison played Macbeth during the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival.

CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba asked Addison about performing for the Amp opening even before he arrived on the grounds. Addison will be one of the first CTC performers to grace the new stage.

The Amp will be the largest space Addison has ever performed in. He said he wants the audience to feel relaxed and welcomed during his delivery because that, in turn, will make him feel more comfortable.

“I really hope they laugh,” Addison said. “That will put me at ease, because I probably will be really nervous. It is huge in there.”

The event will end with a reprise of the final movement from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the “Ode to Joy.” At 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, the preceding evening, the Columbus Symphony Chorus will join the CSO to perform the entire symphony.

Follansbee encourages all Chautauquans to come to the new Amp’s grand opening.

“People should come and enjoy this wonderful concert and … community-wide self-congratulations,” Follansbee said.

Tours of the new facility will follow the matinee performance, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. The usual 8 a.m. Monday tours will also take place this week. Meet at the stanchion displays adjacent to the northwest Amphitheater gate.

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