Sweet Birds of Youth
Tulsa Youth Opera Resonates with Oklahoma’s Aspiring Vocalists
Macy Gleason has something to sing about.
At the fledgling age of 14, the Mannford Middle School eighth-grader is already a veteran of the opera stage—with four years of opera performances under her belt—thanks to Tulsa Youth Opera (TYO).
“The best thing about being involved in TYO is the hours and hours of high quality musical training provided by the opera to me,” says Gleason, who will be sharing the stage with more than 30 other TYO members when the curtains rise this month, at Tulsa Opera’s much-anticipated production of Hansel and Gretel.
“Plus, the opportunity to participate in main-stage productions provides valuable experience that would be difficult to find anywhere else.”
Anywhere else indeed.
A one-of-a-kind program for Oklahoma kids passionate about musical arts, TYO provides unique, unparalleled opportunities for students to perform on-stage with some of the world’s leading opera luminaries while acquiring priceless knowledge of the art form.
“There are several choruses throughout Tulsa and Oklahoma,” acknowledges Christina Maxwell, director of education at Tulsa Opera. “TYO is completely different from the rest, as the students are given the opportunity to sing in main-stage professional productions of grand opera.
Tulsa Opera is the only grand opera company in Oklahoma and TYO is a free program offered to any young person with the time, interest and talent.”
Established in 1997, TYO auditions children each spring, ages 8-18, living within the Tulsa metropolitan area, and has become so popular some students drive more than an hour for the chance to participate in its various activities.
“Each season, TYO presents concerts where students learn and sing challenging music that forces them to grow,” Maxwell says of the endeavor, which is one of several outreach efforts at Tulsa Opera, including a recently launched curriculum that expands on a student’s exposure to opera.
“Last summer a Tulsa Opera Summer Institute was created to provide young singers with additional skills to build their theatric knowledge base,” says Maxwell. “The Tulsa Opera Summer Institute is a two-week program for students ages 8-19.
Led by professionals, the students participate in a series of classes including, solo and ensemble singing; stage movement; stage craft; wardrobe; makeup and opera history.”
Maxwell says students involved with the opera company’s programming have been inspired to become professional singers, directors, and stage managers. Among those is TYO alumna, Rachel Blackburn, who successfully maintains an opera career directing, managing and performing, in venues ranging from American stages, to those in London and Dublin.
“I would most certainly not be where I am today were it not for my involvement with TYO,” Blackburn says. “The greatest value of TYO lies in the unique professional opportunity Tulsa Opera provides to youth, which can then lead one in so, so many different directions both personally and professionally.
For starters, the TYO member is going to graduate high school with professional opera production experience under their belt, which is not something most 18-year-olds can boast.”
Maxwell echoes those sentiments.
“The most important benefit that students take away from our program is self-confidence,” she says. “They walk with the knowledge that they performed on stage with world class singers, full orchestras, and for thousands of people.
I hope they have a feeling of pride in themselves and the art they made possible with their dedication and talent.”
For more information about TYO and Tulsa Opera’s productions and educational outreach go to tulsaopera.com.