"By default" is a key term in listing the bests in music and dance in Orange County. In most areas, there just isn't any competition, which says something about the arts sophistication of the county.
If you want to see major league professional ballet companies, for instance, you have to go to the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.
The same is true if you want to see professional opera.
Interested in hearing orchestras that play on the national and international touring circuits? Performing Arts Center again. The local Pacific Symphony plays there, and the two major chorales sing there.
With Santa Ana High School auditorium effectively abandoned by local groups, despite its splendid acoustics, and much-needed renovations delayed at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, most artistic roads lead to the Center palace, one block east of the South Coast Plaza shopping center . . .
Another choice, fortunately, arises with the new Irvine Barclay Theatre, which offers a great place to view dance and boasts fine acoustics as well. The problem there is that the theater has to divide its schedule among its three partners, the city of Irvine, UC Irvine and a nonprofit operating company, each with its own programming ideas.
Broader choices become available when tuning in to smaller-size music programs. For chamber orchestras, in addition to the Irvine Barclay, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach offers a pleasant listening environment.
The Laguna Chamber Music Series at Laguna Beach High School remains pre-eminent, but for those who don't want to make the trip, there are the Southwest Chamber Music Society programs at Chapman College in Orange, the Fullerton Friends of Music free Sunday concerts and the North Orange Community Concert Series, also in Fullerton, with reciprocity privileges with Community Concerts associations in other cities.
The Corona del Mar Baroque Festival brightens the summer, when virtually everything else shuts down except the Pacific Symphony at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.
Colleges remain the hidden gems for viewing less-heralded attractions, though even here some gigantic talents can be viewed at prices considerably less than at the glamorous Center. You can often catch interesting and important artists regularly at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Saddleback College in Mission Viejo and at UC Irvine.