Opera Guild’s adoption program aims to recruit ‘parents’ with porch chat

On Thursday, 15 or so Chautauquans sat on Hale and Judy Oliver’s porch to chat about adoption over red-peppered quiche and coffee.

Hale Oliver, now celebrating his 15th year as head of the Adopt-an-Artist program, invited Opera Guild guests over to the Oliver household to introduce current and upcoming members to the exchange. The program, Oliver said, which “dates back well over 30 years,” is a fitting way for Guild members to get to know opera singers, actors and instrumentalists throughout the season, while becoming a often-longed-for “set of parents.”

“This program is quintessential to Chautauqua,” he told Guild members. “It’s our way to make these artists feel friendly during their stay here.”

Many agreed the possibilities to welcome their “children” seemed endless.

This season, many mentioned taking their artists out to Sunday brunch, others out to Chinese buffet. Some take their baritones out for 18 holes of golf, maybe a boat ride on the lake after lunch. Many, like Oliver, find that the Young Artists love borrowing “laundry service,” or even their parents’ car.

But, Oliver said, any notion of congeniality is a sure “way of connecting” to young singers that wouldn’t have a direct link to the Chautauqua community otherwise. The ideal result, said Oliver, who hosted tenor Andrew Lunsford this season, is to allow the musical guests to “think of you as a parent.”

It’s not as demanding as actual parenthood, he added.

“People who end up hosting an artist or two find out that it’s not as onerous as they may find,” he said. “It can be fun.”

Others, like Toni and Joe Goldfarb, find that the “fun” of hosting opera children tends to linger long after the annual Sing-In, the laundry visits and house dinners. Toni Goldfarb, who lives in New York City with her husband in the offseason, said that instead of saying “goodbye” after the opera season, it’s more like a “we’ll see you later.”

“We still have kids contacting us from the past years, who we invite to stay in our apartment,” she said.

The hospitality during the Chautauqua season, she said, allows for a “permanent connection.”

Mary Gibbs Mitchell and her husband, Steve, have found themselves in similar situation. After being a part of the Adopt-an-Artist program for 20 years, Mitchell has traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for one singer’s wedding, stayed in Munich with another. One former baritone, Joshua Hopkins, still invites the Mitchells to his New York City shows, handing them Met tickets.

The parents are a contact in the Chautauqua community; however, they act as much more than a leftover delivery service, laundromat or cheerleader.

For example, when tenor Lunsford and his family were set to drive back to their home in Colorado, their van threw an axle, leaving them stranded. The Olivers instantly opened up their house and their beds until the Lunsford family was back on the road, four days later.

Most of the time, Oliver said, opera parents help by just being there.

“He’s got an amazing story,” Hale said of Lunsford. “And we just wanted to do all we could.”