Chautauqua Opera Presents Latest Opera Invasion, ‘So You Think You’re Louder Than an Opera Singer?’

Phoebe Hillstrom competes in the final stage of the “So You Think You’re Louder Than an Opera Singer?” event with the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, on Friday, July 26, 2019 in Girl’s Club. Hillstrom finishes in the top four out of grades six through ten.

As young Chautauquans warmed up their voices, the spirit of friendly competition filled Boys’ and Girls’ Club on Friday for Chautauqua Opera Company’s Opera Invasion: “So You Think You’re Louder Than an Opera Singer?”

After kids learned their musical phrases, the loudest singers from each group went to the front of the hall. One of the chosen, Gabriel O’Brien, 15, geared up for his excerpt.

It wasn’t O’Brien’s opera debut. He was one of the winners from last year’s Invasion and was incredulous that he won again. O’Brien said he loves music in general, especially after learning about it in elementary school.

“I thought it was interesting,” O’Brien said. “For it being my second year having won in a row, I just didn’t expect it — to win twice, that is.”

For 8-year-old Max Kirvan, winning the competition with his peers was exhilarating.

“I really like to sing,” Kirvan said. “I think it’s so fun to congratulate the people — and win.”

Four students from the Chautauqua School of Music Voice Program — soprano Lydia Grace Graham, mezzo-soprano Gal Kohav, tenor Mathieu Levan and bass Brandon Mecklenburg — joined Steven Osgood, Chautauqua Opera Company’s general and artistic director, to teach kids about opera. From the two 45-minute sessions with kids from different age groups, five other young Chautauquans won, along with O’Brien and Kirvan — Victoria Murillo, Ada Oncken, Michael Sammarco, Bella Rosa and Phoebe Hillstrom.

All the winners will be featured in the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s “Opera Pops” concert at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.

For winner Murillo, this Opera Invasion aligned with her desires perfectly — to both yell and sing.

“When I was singing, I really just wanted to yell,” she said. “But I want to be a singer when I grow up.”

A first-time Chautauquan in the audience, Piper Gunnarson said this was a great way to approach music education. She works for the New York City-based On Site Opera, an opera company that specializes in site-specific productions, with Chautauqua Opera’s ¡Figaro! (90210) Director Eric Einhorn. Gunnarson said Osgood and the singers succeeded in introducing specific musical terms to young Chautauquans.

“I think this is an excellent idea,” Gunnarson said. “Opera is a really complex art form and the most important thing, I think, is to not talk down to kids when you are teaching them.”

The kids relished in both performing and watching their friends sing until the last winner was called.

With his winner’s T-shirt in hand, Kirvan said he was excited about winning the competition. But there was one thing he wanted Chautuaquans to know.

“And also, I do karate,” Kirvan said.


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The author Tina Giuliano

Tina Giuliano is a rising junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, where she studies broadcast journalism and Spanish. She serves as the multimedia managing editor at her school’s paper, The State Press. She is excited to begin covering opera for the Daily. When she’s not diving into her journalism career, she’s probably rewatching “The Office,” at a soccer game or figuring out which flavor of ice cream to eat.