Like most teenagers, Chris Mannarino used to prefer simply doing nothing with his summer except lounging around. But at the suggestion of his aunt, a guidance counselor, Mannarino reluctantly tried out for the New York State Summer School of the Arts School of Choral Studies, a four-week program at SUNY Fredonia.
Mannarino got in, and to his own surprise, loved the program. Now entering 12th grade, Mannarino said this weekend will be his third time performing with other NYSSSA students.
At 2:30 p.m. July 24 in the Amphitheater, a mixed group, comprising all 57 students, will perform and divide into a men’s and women’s chorus. Jared Berry, the assistant director for administration for NYSSSA School of Choral Studies, said the students will open with a classical-style piece, Hans Leo Hassler’s “Cantate Domino,” but also sing the more spiritual “Witness” arranged by Jack Halloran, as well as a poem by Robert Frost set to music.
“It’s always remarkable in a sense … to see students in as short a time as four weeks improve so drastically, both in their solo aspects, as well as in their ensemble performances,” Berry said. “It’s interesting to see students come together, not knowing each other, and then simply working in an environment so heavily to further their abilities, over just the short amount of time.”
Berry also said students are always excited to perform at Chautauqua and sing for a new kind of audience.
“Students don’t often get to perform for such a large house, let alone any outdoor theater of sorts,” Berry said. “The thing about Chautauqua: It’s not your family, your brothers and sisters, your parents who are coming to see you, it’s a new audience and it’s always thrilling to watch their genuine reactions to our music.”
As far as he knows, Berry said NYSSSA Choral Studies students have always come to Chautauqua and seen dress rehearsals for the opera. In fact, it was through watching an opera here that one past student became exposed to what would be his current profession.
“The tenor from La Traviata a few weeks ago, he was actually at NYSSSA back in the ’80s. His first ever opera he saw was while he was at the NYSSSA program and went to Chautauqua to see the dress rehearsal,” Berry said. “Now, some years later, he’s performing with the Chautauqua Opera [Company]. … It was quite interesting to see that we’ve come full circle.”
For Mannarino, coming to Chautauqua is a mixture of performing and playing, and he said he is looking forward to returning with the other students in the program.
“You know what you have to do here, but you become so close and it’s so social,” Mannarino said. “When we come to Chautauqua, we just enjoy that experience. I consider us all a family, so coming to Chautauqua is like a family vacation.”