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Chautauqua Preview: Crime and Punishment


A U.S. Supreme Court justice, the creator of one of the best TV shows of all time and a popular public radio personality all visit the Chautauqua Institution this week.  As WBFO's Mark Scott reports in his Chautauqua Preview, it's "crime and punishment" week at Chautauqua.

Not many rural regions like Chautauqua County can boast they have hosted three sitting Supreme Court justices in a matter of months.  Chief Justice John Roberts was at Jamestown's Robert H. Jackson Center in May.  Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke at the Chautauqua Institution just last week.  And Monday, Chautauqua President Tom Becker says Ruth Bader Ginsburg kicks off the week on crime and punishment.

David Simon

"We invited Justice Ginsburg and wrote this evocative letter about why she was so important to this week.  She wrote back saying she was really excited about coming to Chautauqua.  But she didn't want to talk about that.  She wants to talk about opera," Becker said.  "So, she's going to talk about lawyers, trials and punishment in opera."

Indeed, in a recent interview with NPR's Nina Totenberg, Justice Ginsburg acknowledged her love of opera.

"The truth is if God could give me any talent in the world, I would be a great diva," Ginsburg said.

Her dream came partially true recently when a composer wrote an opera based on the arguments presented in court by Justices Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia.  No, they didn't sing their parts.  They left that to opera professionals.  But they thoroughly enjoyed hearing their portrayals in song.

Justice Ginsburg is expected to be in the audience tonight for Chautauqua Opera's production of "Falstaff."  But Chautauqua's Education Director Sherra Babcock says the week on "crime and punishment" turns very serious Tuesday.

"We begin with John Jeffries, the former dean at University of Virginia Law School," Babcock said.  "He said let me warn you that I really believe that there's much that needs to be corrected in our justice system.  We said that's why we invited you."  

It's a topic that has become even more relevant with this month's acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Florida shooting death of Trayvon Martin.  The afternoon theme this week will explore the concept of "restorative justice."  Religion Director Joan Brown Campbell says Catholic Priest Fr. Greg Boyle will speak Thursday at the Hall of Philosophy about his life's work.

"His whole thing is restorative in the sense that is it possible to keep people from a life of crime if they basically live on the street," Brown-Campbell said.  "So, he has devoted himself to a ministry to try to give people a purpose in life."

The "crime and punishment" theme even extends into the evening hours.  Vice President of Programming Marty Merkley says David Simon, the creator of "The Wire" on HBO, will talk about the ground-breaking series at the Amphitheater Monday night at 8:15.

"It's wonderful to have him here for his first appearance at Chautauqua," Merkley said.  "(We'll) learn about how they so cleverly wrote those scripts and dealt with a city (Baltimore), trying to bring out the good and the bad."

And fans of "A Prairie Home Companion" on WNED and WBFO won't want to miss an appearance by host Garrison Keillor and his cast Friday night at Chautauqua.

"It's not a live broadcast, but it is the cast of the show," Merkley said.  "I was told he said he likes Chautauqua and wants to come back."

Other highlights this week include performances by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday while Chautauqua's dance company, North Carolina Dance presents a program of innovative works Wednesday night at the Amphitheater.  

For the full schedule, check out the Chautauqua Institution's website.