10-Year-Olds Perform Opera and Learn About History Along the Way

Elementary In-School Opera

Elementary In-School Opera

Rehearsals are in full swing for LA Opera’s Elementary In-School Opera program. This annual five-week residency brings LA Opera teaching artists and staff into 15 elementary schools across the county to rehearse, stage, and perform an opera. While teaching artists are cast as principal roles, the students are cast in ensemble and smaller roles, often getting their first taste of opera and learn about California history along the way.

This year, LA Opera is staging The Legend of Cannery Row. This opera by Eli and LeRoy Villanueva (premiered by LA Opera in 2016) tells the story of a fourth and fifth grade class that encounters the ghost of Princess Turandot, while on a trip to El Encinal cemetery in Monterey Bay. The Legend of Cannery Row is loosely based on Puccini’s opera Turandot and while rehearsing students learn the basics of opera, including opera terms and how to connect the text in the libretto with the music they are rehearsing.

The Legend of Cannery Row is loosely based on Puccini’s opera Turandot and while rehearsing students learn the basics of opera, including opera terms and how to connect the text in the libretto with the music they are rehearsing.

But, participating in The Legend of Cannery Row does more than teach students about opera. Students learn about California history.

Cannery Row is a real place located in Monterey Bay on the central coast of the state. It was once a bustling waterfront business district that boasted several canneries (a place where fresh fish cleaned and placed in cans so that it can be shipped to stores and sold). Entrepreneurial and innovative fishermen and canners came to Cannery Row from all over the world – especially from China, Japan, Mexico, and Italy. These newcomers faced great obstacles and made great sacrifices to survive in California, from unwelcoming and violent neighbors who set their homes on fire, to oceans suffering from overfishing.

While rehearing the opera, students learn about this history and how the community has changed since the last cannery closed in 1973. Monterey Bay is no longer a haven for immigrants and has become more of a tourist attraction.

Throughout the rehearsal process, students reflect on what they’ve learned through journal entries and discuss how the text showcases the immigrant experience. It’s a great opportunity for the kids – who are mostly around age ten – to discuss immigration and acceptance through studying California’s immigrant history.

To learn more about our education and community engagement programs, including Elementary In-School Opera click here.

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