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14 young voices join the Pittsburgh Opera on stage for "Tosca"

| Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, 12:57 p.m.
Jack Rau, left, and Ryan Poisker during the Pittsburgh Opera's final dress rehearsal of Puccini's Tosca at the Benedum Center on Oct. 6.
David Bachman
Jack Rau, left, and Ryan Poisker during the Pittsburgh Opera's final dress rehearsal of Puccini's Tosca at the Benedum Center on Oct. 6.

Maureen Poisker of Franklin Park beamed with pride as she watched her 13-year-old son, Ryan, bolt up the stairs and shove another child in front of thousands of spectators.

It was Ryan's stage debut with the Pittsburgh Opera on Oct. 7, at the Benedum Center.

Poisker and Jack Rau, 12, of McCandless, were two of the 14 members of the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus who appeared as child choristers in Act 1 of Giacomo Puccini's “Tosca,” a tale about political intrigue, love, loyalty, betrayal, and murder in 19th Century Rome. Poisker's on-stage scuffle was part of the story.

“While I was in the dressing room, I kept wondering what it would be like to be out there on stage,” said Poisker, who sings soprano.

Then he stepped into the spotlight. “There were tons of eyes on me.”

Poisker has loved singing for as long as he and his mother can remember.

“He's been singing to us his whole life,” his mother recalled. “He'd sing songs from the radio while he sat in the bathtub as a baby. He always sang the right words in the right key, and would correct us if we didn't.”

An eighth grader at Ingomar Middle School, Poisker sings in his school's chorus and select choir, IMS Voices.

Rau's voice was discovered by his former chorus teacher at Hosack Elementary School.

“I never really knew I had talent,” said the sixth-grader who now attends Carson Middle School. “But in music class, my teacher handed me an envelope asking if I wanted to audition for the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus. I didn't know what that was.” Ultimately, he sang “Happy Birthday” at his audition and was accepted.

“PYC worked up my voice and gave me skill. Now singing is like a hobby. I like doing it,” said Rau, who sings alto.

He was excited about the opportunity to join the Pittsburgh Opera on stage for “Tosca.”

“It was fun waiting to run on stage. I was pumped up,” he said. Rau and Poisker performed for about six minutes in each of the four performances.

“Ryan and Jack are great kids who are a joy to have in the production. They're two more examples of why we love working with Pittsburgh Youth Chorus. Their energy and enthusiasm are infectious,” said Mark Trawka, the Opera's director of musical studies/chorus master.

Rau and Poisker have been members of the PYC for three years. Since 1983, the PYC (formerly the Children's Festival Chorus) has been a premier choral organization for young voices. The group of about 200 youth practices once a week at the Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University. This year, they will perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and The Mendelssohn Choir. They also will sing the National Anthem for the Harlem Globetrotters and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds professional soccer team.

Poisker relished his time with the Pittsburgh Opera, including the long rehearsals in which the performers and conductors encouraged the kids and swapped stories.

“It was fun to talk about how they got into opera. They shared their experiences with us,” Poisker said.

As a result, he believes he may want to pursue a career in singing. “I kind of want to get into opera now. I like to sing so I might want to join the Pittsburgh Opera,” he said.

Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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