BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Catie LeCours is not at all what one would expect when meeting a young, talented opera performer.
No booming voice or over-the-top gesticulations here. Catie, who will be a sophomore at Niskayuna High School next month, has a serious demeanor. She wears her long hair pin-straight, glasses on her nose, and a necklace on a solemn black cord.
Sitting in her living room on a recent Wednesday, which is company day off for the Glimmerglass Opera Festival, Catie spoke softly about a passion that began to grow at an almost unimaginably early age.
“I got interested in performing when I was one and a half,” she said. “I saw ‘The Nutcracker.’ ”
Catie describes herself as “obsessed” with the classic holiday show throughout middle school. She performed in it five times with different companies, starting her Nutcracker career as a reindeer with a Malta group and ending it as a gingersnap at Proctor’s.
“That was a lot of fun,” she recalled. “I had a tutu.”
As she’s grown older, performing and a closely related love for costumes have grown with her. She drew imaginary costumes for the Nutcracker while she performed it, then continued the habit because she enjoyed it so much.
“I still kept drawing costumes and things,” she said.
This summer, she was invited by her voice teacher to costume a summer camp show: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
In the Glimmerglass festival, Catie plays Penelope in a specially written version of Homer’s “Odyssey.”
The festival’s organizers commissioned it to be played by young people and enjoyed by children; Catie practiced under the direction of the composer and librettist who developed the piece.
“It’s cool, but you feel like you have to do it right, because no one else has done it before,” she said.
Catie adores the yellow, orange and pink dress and accompanying gold jewelry she wears as Penelope.
“It looks Greek,” she said. She also admires the costume designer for the show, who gave her a signed sketch of two other characters’ wardrobes.
Despite her understated, self-assured demeanor, Catie said she does get nervous sometimes before going out on stage in her multicolored gown and singing the pieces she’s worked so hard on.
“It’s my first opera,” she said. “I usually get nervous in the car. When I get there, it’s OK.”
Catie is one of the youngest performers at Glimmerglass. She participates in the Children’s Chorus, which is usually a featured group in a larger opera, but got its own show for the first time this year. However, the rest of the cast is much more experienced than she.
Closest in age to the Children’s Chorus are participants in the highly competitive Young Artists program, who are in their late 20s and early 30s and are working on, or have completed, master’s degrees in the art of performance. Two of them participate in the Odyssey alongside the children’s chorus.
“I’ve learned a lot of things,” Catie said. “It’s really cool to work with them and see how they perform.”
“I try to write down everything,” she added.
Though it’s her first opera, it’s just the most recent in a series of performing opportunities she’s seized.
Her favorite class in school is concert chorale, and she’s performed with Saratoga Children’s Theater, Cohoes Music Hall, and CR Productions. Most recently, she understudied Cosette in a production of “Les Miserables.”
To unwind, Catie does. well, pretty much what she always does.
“I really like to write,” she said. She’s currently putting the finishing touches on a play she started writing two years ago.
The topic is a closely held secret, but she said several of her friends have given her advice on how to improve the work she’s done.
“In the past year, six or seven of my friends have read it or are reading it,” she said. She asks them questions like, “Do you think this character’s purpose is clear?”
“I like writing about historical people,” she said, though refusing to let on whether this particular play was about a historical period.
Catie said her parents, Coleen and Brian, support her passion for all aspects of the theater, from writing to costuming and performing. (She doesn’t have siblings but said her dog, a dachshund named Coco, is pretty supportive, too.)
“We’re very fortunate to be able to support Catie in doing what she loves,” her mother said. “The opportunity is unsurpassed.”
Coleen admitted that driving repeatedly to Cooperstown for the Glimmerglass Opera Festival was a time-consuming commitment, but said it’s been worth the effort — not just for Catie, but for herself, thanks to all the opera performances she’s able to watch during rehearsals and visits.
“It’s totally worth the drive,” she said. “We’ll be happy to drive her to the audition next year.”
For her part, Catie is ready to face the judges all over again for another chance to be in the festival. It’s all part of her plan to study opera, musical theater or vocal performance in college someday, possibly abroad.
“When I grow up I’d like to be in operas and musicals,” she said.