Cindy and Francis Letro sponsor inter-arts collaboration of “Mango Suite”

Cindy Letro likes to dream. She loves to listen to the lectures at the Hall of Philosophy from her folding chair that she sets up in the grass outside and look up at the sky.

“I like to listen, but I like to look up, and I love to hear the birds and the rustle in the trees,” Letro said. “If the lecture is great, that’s a plus. If it’s not, I’m still in a beautiful place.”

A dedicated patron of the arts, Letro began singing as a small child; in college she decided she didn’t have what it took to be a music major, but her passion for music never died.

“For me, that’s my passion,” Letro said. “It’s music and the arts, but music in particular.”

Letro and her husband, Francis, are zealous supporters of the arts at Chautauqua Institution, and this season they have underwritten the commission of “Mango Suite,” composed by Derek Bermel, in honor of Tom and Jane Becker.

“Mango Suite” is an inter-arts collaborative performance by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra based on The House on Mango Street, a novel written by Sandra Cisneros. Alongside the CSO, the performance will include the Chautauqua Theater Company and the Chautauqua Dance and Voice programs. The House on Mango Street was Week Four’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection, and “Mango Suite” will be performed at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.

“I’ve always found how interesting it is when you get a number of different people from different disciplines together (and) give them a theme,” Letro said. “The variety of (interpretations you get) all helps you to learn the story. Music can tell you one part of it, dance (and) theater can do another.”

Although Chautauqua has done inter-arts performances before — many of which the Letros have supported — Cindy Letro thinks “Mango Suite” is different. She dreams that it could represent the beginning of something new for Chautauqua — a new way for the Institution to brand itself; a new way of thinking about art.

“We should try to be thinking of something where we create … a brand that (is) Chautauqua — that whatever we create here, would be something that we would then be known (by),” Letro said. “The inter-arts projects could be … our brand.”

The plan for “Mango Suite,” according to Letro, is for the performance — or at least parts of the performance — to be able to travel to other cities.

“It won’t be that each part is dependent on the other to stand alone,” Letro said. “They’re stronger together, but for instance, if there’s a dance in this, the music and the literary points of it could perhaps stand on their own if you didn’t have a dance company in a particular city.”

Rossen Milanov, music director of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and conductor of “Mango Suite,” plans to take the performance to Columbus, Ohio, and Princeton, New Jersey, according to Letro.

“The name of Chautauqua ends up in Ohio and in New Jersey and it’s a piece of music, it’s a performance, that was developed at Chautauqua and that then becomes a brand,” Letro said. “Like ‘Made In America,’ only this is ‘Made In Chautauqua.’ ”

Not only does this help spread Chautauqua’s name, but it creates art and performances that will have lives beyond one season.

“I think that, for me, is what I thought was exciting about this,” Letro said. “I think that’s what (Vice President and Director of Programming Deborah Sunya Moore’s) vision is, and perhaps the composer’s as well, is that this piece that we create is one that will go on.”

Letro dreams that this form of performance may be the way of the future for Chautauqua.

“You have the beauty here to create; you have the Schools (of Fine and Performing Arts); you have the different companies … all of them are creating things,” Letro said. “It would be great (for it) to be known that new knowledge, new arts, are being developed at this place.”

For more information on making a gift in support of the arts at Chautauqua, contact Geof Follansbee, CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation, at 716-357-6220 or

Tags : AmphitheaterChautauqua Symphony OrchestraCindy LetrocsoDerek Bermelinter-artsMango SuiteThe House on Mango Street
Meaghan Wilby

The author Meaghan Wilby

Meaghan Wilby covers the Lincoln Series in Applied Ethics as well as special lectures and programs, and works with the Chautauqua Foundation to cover development activities. Originally from New Zealand, she recently graduated from Allegheny College with a B.A. in English. She played four years of varsity basketball at Allegheny and was an editor for The Campus newspaper for two years. She can be reached at