Opera ‘families’ unite at the annual Opera Guild Picnic

Photographs by JOSHUA BOUCHER | Staff Photographer

Opera “parents” gathered in the garage of the Jane A. Gross Opera Center last Sunday evening and anxiously awaited their opera “children” assigned for the season.

As students began trailing in, the parents met them with great enthusiasm. The new opera families took their seats and began familiarizing themselves with one another.

The annual Chautauqua Opera Guild Picnic revealed the Adopt-An-Artist matchups for the season, and provided a social environment where the new families could begin building bonds.

Most opera parents are part of the Guild, which serves as a support group for the Chautauqua Opera Company and the Young Artists Program.

“We exist purely to assist the singers,” said Jane Gross, a current opera parent. “We are here as someone to cheer for you, have dinner with and bring you flowers when you sing.”

Young Artists receive personal and sometimes professional help from their opera parents throughout the summer and even beyond. Parents open their homes to students during the season and will sometimes offer meals, bikes and a place to do laundry.

Gross’ opera daughters for the 2015 season are Aubry Ballarò-Hagadon and Catheryn Shuman.

Gross said relationships often last after the season and continue on through life. She said four or five of her opera students are still close with her, and she has attended a few weddings.

“As an example, David Crawford, who has returned as a guest artist, is still close with his opera parents Sue and Chris Martin,” she said. “They were at his wedding and now consider themselves opera grandparents now that he has a little girl.”

In an effort to welcome their new children, the opera parents serenaded the Young Artists with songs that described their experience for this summer.

Nancy Seal, an Opera Guild member, wrote the lyrics, which were accompanied by the melodies of familiar tunes “Over the Rainbow” and “Munchkin Song” from “The Wizard of Oz.”

The parents huddled into a mini choir as they as they sang: “You are over the rainbow. It’s win-win. You’ll find friends that will stand by you through thick and thin.”

The mission of the Adopt-An-Artist Program is just that — establishing relationships that support students through obstacles as well as their achievements.

“Even though people are assigned their official kids, ‘everybody’ includes everybody,” Gross said. “People do whatever they can to help, we want you to have a great time.”

As the opera parents stated in their welcome song: “If every single moment counts, then let’s enjoy them, every single day.”