Chautauqua Opera Young Artists take talents to Heritage Green

Leah Harrison | Staff Writer

For decades, opera singers have been stereotyped as bossy, self-involved and demanding. Any number of encounters with Chautauqua Opera Company’s Young Artists would disprove that negative image, but one afternoon stands out as a myth-buster for Chautauqua Opera Guild President Barbara Turbessi.

When Turbessi arrived at Heritage Green Health Care Center to visit her husband on July 29, she found soprano Mandy Brown — her “adopted opera daughter” — and three colleagues preparing to give a recital to a group of the facility’s residents.

Barbara’s husband, Albert J. Turbessi, loves music and art, and adopted singers through the opera guild’s “Adopt-an-Artist” program when he lived at the Institution. The program allows students to have a family-like connection with someone in the Chautauqua community while they work to produce multiple professional productions.

Brown learned about Albert’s love for opera through her many visits with Barbara.

“Barbara is someone who is always taking care of everyone else,” Brown said. “It’s nice to be able to do something that is meaningful to her and her family.”

After presenting an afternoon art song recital with tenor Adam Bonanni, baritone Thomas Lehman and pianist Allison Voth during Week Four, Brown decided to take the already-prepared music to Heritage Green. They sang selections from Tchaikovsky, Barber, Debussy, Respighi, Rossini and Gilbert and Sullivan.

“Some audience members lit up with the Gilbert and Sullivan songs,” Bonanni said. “One woman started dancing in her chair, and we learned she used to dance to that music. Music is one of the best triggers for bringing memories back.”

All three singers grew up singing in similar venues and are happy to return to their roots.

After the recital, Lehman met a woman who had been an usher at Norton Hall for years.

“A lot of these people have given so much to this community,” Brown said. “We wanted them to be able to enjoy the fruits of that dedication, so that even if they are not physically at Chautauqua, their hearts are.”

Barbara was pleased to see so many people enjoying the music.

“My husband loves music and opera, and he was just thrilled,” Barbara said. “He just couldn’t believe this was happening.”

The musicians feel they got just as much out of the experience as any audience member.

“This is exactly why we do what we do,” Bonanni said. “We work and are criticized every step of the way, but it’s really about the audience’s enjoyment. In a setting like Heritage Grove, it’s only about joy.”

“This art form is about the communication and sharing of the human heart from one to another, above anything else,” Brown said. “Of all the experiences I’ve had here, as wonderful as performing in Norton Hall and the Amp has been, that was my favorite experience of the summer. To be able to give something back is very important and rewarding.”