Two vocal music students qualify for Tulsa Youth Opera

Aug. 4—Two area vocal music students have qualified for Tulsa Youth Opera’s 2022-2023 season.

The two are Leah Armstrong, 14, of Tahlequah and GiaVanna Hearlson, 12, of Warner. Both are voice students of former operatic mezzo-soprano Barbara McAlister.

Tulsa Youth Opera is a tuition-free training program for exceptional singers in grades 3-12.

Most of the Muskogee-area singers at Tulsa Youth Opera have come through McAlister’s vocal music program, said Aaron Beck, musical director of Tulsa Youth Opera.

“We always love having Barbara’s kids because they are always well prepared and good kids to go into the program,” he said.

Beck said this year’s group will have 44 participants, out of 80 who auditioned.

Leah said this was her second year in the youth opera program. She said she was a cover for one of the lead roles in Tulsa Youth Opera’s “The Second Hurricane” earlier this year.

She said she sent in a video audition of herself performing “How Could I Know” from “The Secret Garden” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from “Phantom of the Opera.”

GiaVanna said she auditioned in person with “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music.”

“Trying to sing in front of someone, it was a bit nerve-wracking to sing it in front of people,” she said, adding that she was happy to hear she had qualified.

“It was a really big moment, because it’s my very first year,” she said.

Leah said she was excited to be back this year.

“It’s a really wonderful experience,” she said.

Leah said attendees go to rehearsals every Tuesday.

“We rehearse the music and we have to audition there for the roles,” she said. “We are reviewing the pronunciation, if necessary.”

Beck said Tulsa Youth Opera students perform several times throughout the year.

“When Tulsa does its big stage productions at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, sometimes we do a children’s choir,” he said. “And those singers will come from the Tulsa Youth Opera.”

In January, contestants will perform in the annual “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” which features an all-youth cast.

There will also be an all-youth cast in an unannounced June production. Beck said the performance will mark the opera’s American premiere.

“All the kids will be able to sing in there too, and that’s with a full orchestra and sets and costumes and everything,” he said. “So they’re really getting as full a professional experience as possible.”

Students will also sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at a Tulsa Drillers baseball game later this month, said Leah’s mother, Tavia Armstrong.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Tulsa Youth Opera, as well as the 75th anniversary of Tulsa Opera, Beck said.

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