Heartland Youth Choir to take the stage in TURANDOT and BILLY BUDD

Singers and musicians from around the world are arriving in Indianola to prepare for Des Moines Metro Opera’s 45th Festival Season, featuring performances of Puccini’s Turandot, Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd and Astor Piazzolla’s María de Buenos Aires. These world class artists and technicians come together for eight brief weeks to put together a magical season of professional opera right in the heart of Iowa. While most of the artists hail from outside of Iowa, the youngest talent on stage will be from our very own backyard.

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Members of the ragazzi coro in Turandot

Rehearsals began the last week of April for 27 central Iowa singers in grades 4 – 8. They have been learning the storylines, the music, and, for Turandot, the Italian they will need to take their places beside world-class performers. Coaching these young singers is Barbara Sletto, founder and artistic director for Heartland Youth Choir, a nonprofit organization based in Windsor Heights.

Sletto’s specialty is the development of young voices. At HYC, she has built a performance-based program that focuses not only on musical literacy, but also on character development and community engagement. Collaborations with professional musicians are a major part of that philosophy.

This is not the first time HYC and Des Moines Metro Opera have worked together. Sletto also prepped young performers for Carmen (2007), Otello (2007), Tosca (2009), and La Bohème (2011). HYC singers also participated in Dead Man Walking (2014), and on three occasions, an HYC singer was chosen for the title role in Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Opportunities like that have the power to change young lives. Sletto has seen it happen. “I see what happens after the opera, when high school students become more involved in drama and seek out theater and opera studies in college,” she says. And the effect is long-lasting. “The alumni come back and are still talking about the impact their opera experience had on their lives,” says Sletto. “It’s very gratifying to be able to give our students this opportunity.”

For this summer’s performances, a group of 15 in grades 6 – 8 will act as the children’s choir (ragazzi) in Turandot. All but one of the singers are members of Heartland Youth Choir. They come from all parts of the greater Des Moines metro, plus Ankeny, Minburn and Indianola. Italian pronunciations have been one of the biggest challenges for this group. They are using a number of resources, including YouTube to hone their language skills.

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Barbara Sletto and the Midshipmen listening to a recording of Billy Budd

The youngest seafarers for Billy Budd include four midshipmen and eight powder monkeys in grades 4 – 8. The older students are midshipmen and will be on stage for much of the performance. They are eagerly awaiting their costumes, which are being made in Budapest. The younger students will be the rowdy powder monkeys. They are learning how to control their voices in new ways, whether it’s singing or shouting.

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The Midshipmen of Billy Budd in rehearsal

The young singers will have their first rehearsals in Indianola this weekend. It’s the start of a musical immersion that few elementary and middle-school students will ever experience. “I talk about that with the students when we open auditions,” Sletto says. “They start out thinking they are just going to sing hard music, loud and high, and maybe in a different language.”

“I search the Internet for set pieces from other operas of the same work, and we talk about what the stage will look like. We talk about what the green rooms look like and about watching how the professionals do their work on stage. The students learn so much just by being part of it all.”

To order your tickets for Billy Budd, click HERE

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To order your tickets for Turandot, click HERE

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More about Heartland Youth Choir

Heartland Youth Choir provides a unique opportunity for children of diverse backgrounds with a particular aptitude in vocal music to explore that interest beyond their school setting. Quality literature from all styles and periods form the foundation for this exploration.

Six choirs serve the needs of central Iowa youth in grades K – 12. The experience of HYC conductors and accompanists, who are all current or former music instructors, provides the very best education for young signers. Combined, the choirs deliver more than 40 performances a year, locally, nationally, and even internationally.

Recent highlights for HYC members include a gold rating at the World Choir Games, a choir tour to New York City that included a performance at Carnegie Hall, an invitation to the International Choral Festival, which gave students a chance to meet singers from Cuba, Poland, Costa Rica, and more.

In addition to the Des Moines Metro Opera collaborations, Heartland Youth Choir has also performed with Simon Estes, American Boychoir, Des Moines Symphony, Mannheim Steamroller, Central Iowa Wind Ensemble, and the Canadian Brass, to name just a few.

Another feature of Heartland Youth Choir is the Meet the Composer Festival, which gives area singers a chance to work with an internationally known composer. Next spring, for the first time, an Iowa artist – Elaine Hagenberg – will be featured.

For more information about Heartland Youth Choir and all their programs for central Iowa youth, visit their website at joinhyc.org.

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