Recaptured Memories (and Opera!) Brighten Soggy Old First Night Race


At some point, you’re going to be faced with the inevitable question: What is Chautauqua?

You could do worse than pointing to the Old First Night Run.

Chautauqua is 15-year-old Tyler Clark separating himself from the pack and winning a competition open to all ages. It’s Joan Rosenthal and Carol Genovese participating in more than 20 Old First Night Runs during their time at Chautauqua. And it’s Chautauqua Opera Company Artistic and General Director Steve Osgood completing the run, grabbing a piano and leading opera singers Allison Deady and Jake Skipworth in a rendition of “La Ci Darem Lamano.”

“It’s been a lot of fun. For the most part, it’s grown every year, though we changed the time last year to 8 a.m.,” said Peggy Ulasewicz, who organizes the Old First Night Run. “A lot of teenagers don’t like to get out of bed for an 8 a.m. run.”

They had even more incentive to hit snooze on Saturday morning when rain drenched Chautauqua Institution throughout the early morning hours. Despite a few puddles around the starting line and more participants carrying umbrellas, the race went ahead as scheduled.

Ulasewicz said it was the first time it had rained during the Old First Night run in almost 30 years.

But the inclement weather didn’t slow down any of serious runners who started off the race near the front of the pack. Clark, a native of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, won the Old First Run with a time of 15:23 and finished nearly a minute ahead of his nearest competitor.

“I’ve been training a lot for cross-country this fall,” he said. “This morning, I just got up and ran.”

The 2.7-mile course is a unique distance that’s shorter than a traditional 5K, so Clark said he wasn’t sure if his time was he was on pace for a personal record over that distance. Though he’s been competing in the Old First Night Run since he was 7 years old, this was Clark’s first time winning the event.

For other runners, returning to Chautauqua for the annual event brought back plenty of memories. Kelly Carmichael won the Old First Night Run in 2011 and returned this year for the first time since his victory five years ago. He finished in ninth place among all runners.

“I run in Fort Lauderdale, so I don’t do any hills,” he said. “My least favorite part of the course is the big hill [by Boys’ and Girls’ Club], but I like going up on the north end, because it’s a part of Chautauqua you don’t really see.”

Carmichael said the rainy weather and short distance of the Old First Night course put everyone in the same boat and didn’t leave much room for strategy.

But not everyone in the field had their sights set on just winning the race.

For Osgood, the Old First Night Run was another chance to showcase the company’s new Opera Invasion program. Immediately after completing the run, Osgood and two other singers from the company began preparing for an unusual performance, but it was something they had been planning for months.

“I knew about the Old First Night race because I’ve been here for several years,” Osgood said. “We sent out a questionnaire when we had hired all of our young artists and one of the questions surreptitiously was ‘Hey, are any of you runners?’ And Jake and Alli wrote ‘Oh yeah, I run.’ Little did they know, they were going to get conscripted into this.”

With Osgood accompanying on an electric piano, Deady and Skipworth sang the famous “La Ci Darem Lamano” from Mozart’s 1787 opera Don Giovanni. Osgood called their rendition “phenomenal,” especially since it’s not usually performed after running several miles through the morning rain.

As runners crossed the finish line and the rain began to ease up, Ulasewicz announced the winners on the Sports Club tennis courts. A full list of results are available on pages 12 and 13 of Wednesday’s Daily.

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Austin Siegel

The author Austin Siegel

Austin Siegel is the recreation and youth reporter for The Chautauquan Daily. He is a journalism major at Northwestern University and a third-generation Chautauquan. Follow him on Twitter @AustinSiegel23.