Pittsburgh Youth Chorus Singer Returns as Opera Star

Here’s a story about kids coming full circle.  The Pittsburgh Opera performs “Turandot” starting this Saturday. The woman who stars in the show grew up in Canonsburg and performed with a local youth chorus that has performers in this show. In fact, the very first opera that singer Alexandra Loutsion saw as a child was Puccini’s “Turandot” at the Benedum Center. Now, she’s back as the star of the show, and she’s sharing her love of music with the children of the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus — the same group where she first developed her love of classical music.

The Pittsburgh Opera’s grand production of “Turandot” features 178 people on stage, including dancers, children from the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus, and the lead, Alexandra Loutsion. “It’s really incredible to be coming back full circle, and this is one of the most meaningful performances I’ve done up to this point in my career,”Loutsion says.

The costumes are lavish; the storyline dramatic; the gongs come all the way from China, signed by Pavarotti. The kids say they’re amazed at it all, especially meeting the star. She remembers what it was like.

“When I was in the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus, I was a lover of music. I loved everything about it. It fed my soul at a young age, but I really didn’t have the voice to back it up at the time,”Loutsion says.  “I had a really small, tiny little breathy, nothing voice, and no one really ever thought I would be able to be a soloist.” Her voice developed, and she grew into the opera star she is now.

The children say the whole experience of being in this extravagant production is incredible. Mia Fantini is a freshman at Oakland Catholic high school and says, “the whole experience with the tech and backstage and seeing the performance on stage is fun and exhilarating.”

Marina Dunham, a 4th grader at O’Hara Elementary School adds, “It’s been spectacular. Just being on the stage practicing, it’s amazing. It’s probably going to be one of the best experiences I have as a kid.”

In the show, 12 of the smaller choristers appear on stage throughout the show in different costumes, while 15 older choristers are actually the ones singing from off stage.

Shawn Funk, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus, says it’s a great learning experience for the children. “Having these young singers being part of something so large and grand and seeing the sense of craftsmanship that’s required, that they have to be exactly where they need to be at the exact moment and all of that, is part of something that is much large than what they’re doing.  It’s a huge life lesson as well.”

Loutsion says when she was in the chorus, she was actually too tall to perform with the Pittsburgh Opera, but she sang with the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Mendelssohn Youth Choir and now stars in operas, but she especially loves singing with the group that gave her her start.  They began an impromptu song together — a hymn that the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus has sung as their final song of the spring concert for almost 40 years.  “Thank you,” she says to the children.  “That was really special.”

You can see Loutsion and the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus perform in “Turandot” with the Pittsburgh Opera at the Benedum Center starting this Saturday, March 25, Tuesday, March 28, Friday, March 31 and Sunday, April 2.