Live entertainment is returning, and audiences and performers alike couldn’t be more excited — including members of Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Hans and Leslie Fleischner Young Artists Program, who not only took to the stage but also filmed a movie. 

Pittsburgh Festival Opera Artistic Director Marianne Cornetti, a performer herself for 32 years, tears up when she thinks about the fact that everyone can sing together again in person. 

“To be shut down for two years and to not be able to use the gift that we used to touch people and communicate with people was really hard,” Cornetti says. 

Three of the artists involved in the program — Sadie Cheslak of Duluth, Minn., Colin Aikins of Pittsburgh and Alexandria Zallo of Pittsburgh — say they are eager to get back into performing in person, rather than from their bedrooms via Zoom.

“The first day we all got together, we were all at a picnic for like three hours, and it was exhausting being around that many people,” Zallo says. “But then we got to the first rehearsal, and it was really emotional.”

Cheslak agrees: “You kind of forget how intensely emotional it can be. So there’s been moments where I’ve caught myself getting choked up at things and getting too into it, but maybe that’s a good thing.”

The young artists, who were housed at La Roche University, have been working all summer, taking voice lessons and masterclasses, performing concerts and working on “Lysistrata,” a film of American composer Mark Adamo’s opera about one woman’s plan to end the Peloponnesian War by urging women to withhold sex. 

The film will premiere on Oct. 31 at the historic Carrie Blast Furnaces in Swissvale. 

“I didn’t realize how crazy film and that world is,” Aikins says. “You are there all day from the crack of dawn, but it’s been a crazy cool experience that I never saw myself being a part of.”

Cornetti says the 22 artists from all over the country who took part in the program were up to the challenge.

 “The level of our young artists is very high,” she says.

“Summer programs are vital to the development of young artists not only because of the training and performance experiences they offer, but also for the relationships forged in the process,” adds Robert Frankenberry, director of the Hans and Leslie Fleischner Young Artist Program.

Tia is a senior journalism student at Point Park and an intern at NEXT. She loves movies, Pittsburgh and cats.