Chartiers-Houston graduate stars in ‘Turandot’

March 17, 2017
Image description
Photo courtesy of David Bachman Photography
Alexandra Loutsion, a graduate of Chartiers-Houston High School, stars as Princess Turandot in the Pittsburgh Opera production of “Turandot.”
Image description
Photo courtesy of David Bachman Photography
Alexandra Loutsion as Princess Turandot and Thiago Arancam as her suitor, Prince Calaf, are shown in a scene from the Pittsburgh Opera production of “Turandot.”

Alexandra Loutsion has been singing since she was a kid in Canonsburg: church choir, Children’s Festival Chorus, private voice lessons with an opera singer. She did classical with the Festival Chorus, but by her mid-teens, Loutsion had developed a voice that was fully operatic.

She attended her first opera at 15, in Pittsburgh, and “fell in love with” the genre. It was Puccini’s “Turandot” – and the impetus for a career.

Eighteen years later, Loutsion is back in the ’Burg for “Turandot.” This time, she won’t be watching, but playing the lead role – Princess Turandot – in the Pittsburgh Opera production. Performances will run March 25 through April 2 at the Benedum Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

It promises to be an energizing homecoming for the 33-year-old soprano, who is a Chartiers-Houston High School graduate.

“Coming back (to this opera) after starting my journey here … it’s pretty special,” Loutsion said of a career path that has taken a 360-degree turn to her roots. “I’m absolutely thrilled.”

Loutsion is absolutely talented as well, performing as a principal artist the past three-plus years. “I’m starting to hit my stride at 33 and getting ready to hit the prime of my career. I feel like things are progressing as I hoped they would.”

Before that, she often served as a resident artist or apprentice artist with opera companies nationwide. She described those positions as “a program for burgeoning opera singers. It’s like a doctor’s residency.”

Loutsion (pronounced loo-shun) returned to Pittsburgh Opera as a resident artist from September 2010 to May 2012, and performed in seven of nine productions. “Turandot” was among the nine, but Loutsion wasn’t selected for the production. So she again had to watch it here, this time studying the lead character.

“I wasn’t in the show, but I was learning,” Loutsion said, unaware she would assume that role on the same stage five years later.

“Turandot” is an Italian opera set in China. It is a lavish, three-act production with striking costumes and a strikingly unlikable lead character – at least initially.

The princess is from an ancient dynasty, and according to sacred oaths, she has to get married. She doesn’t want to marry, though, and asks a long line of suitors three questions, and if any of their answers is wrong, the men are executed. Calaf comes along, passes the test and ultimately wins her over to become the prince.

“I’m not a very nice person at the beginning,” Loutsion said, laughing, over a phone from her Pittsburgh hotel room last week. “Turandot doesn’t appear until late in the opera, and there’s a buildup of fear because you hear so many bad things about her. But it’s definitely an action-packed opera. There’s no time to get bored, trust me.”

All singing will be in Italian, one of four languages Loutsion speaks. A large screen at the Benedum will display the lyrics in English. The lyrics, to be sure, will be belted out.

“Opera singing takes a lot of stamina,” Loutsion said. “The Benedum has just under 3,000 seats, and opera singers almost never perform with microphones. You’re hearing opera singers in their natural state.”

Loutsion, who is single, is in the midst of a whirlwind career. “I currently live in Chicago, but I don’t really live anywhere,” she said. “I travel so much, I basically haven’t spent time in Chicago.

“You kind of get used to packing a suitcase quickly and going on the road. I have an agent, and if he calls and asks if you can be in a certain city in two days, I do it.”

She always has a home in Washington County, of course. “My parents and all of my dad’s side are in Canonsburg,” Loutsion said. “It’s a big Greek community.”

The road to “Turandot” has been long and circuitous: from the All Saints Greek Orthodox Church choir, to Children’s Festival Chorus in Pittsburgh, to high school musicals, to three college music degrees, to a career in opera – a music genre she didn’t personally encounter as a child.

But as fast-paced as her lifestyle may be, Alexandra Loutshion embraces it.

“This art form has changed my life and the lives of my family and friends,” she said. “My goal is to bring people to the opera at least once, to just experience it; to make it a welcoming and safe place for people.

“I feel very, very lucky.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012. Previously, he was a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won numerous awards, including a Golden Quill, an O-R staff Golden Quill award, and four other writing awards during his 40 plus years working for daily newspapers. A lifelong Pittsburgher, he is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.

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