Every year, LA Opera brings opera into schools through its Secondary In-School (SISO) program, through which students and teaching artist join forces over the course of 10 weeks to produce an opera. This innovative and influential program shares the art form with kids across Los Angeles. It’s an enriching experience for both students, teachers, and the artists involved in the program, including baritone Leroy Villanueva.
Villanueva has worked LA Opera since 2005 on a variety of different education and community initiatives (from Opera Tales to SISO), sharing his passion for opera with the next generation. SISO holds a special place in Villanueva’s heart as he enjoys watching students grow through the transformative power of opera.
“To see the kids grow and find the courage to perform opera is so exciting,” says Villanueva, who works closely with his brother Eli Villanueva, LA Opera’s resident stage director.
Through SISO, Villanueva works with the kids from the very first rehearsal, often singing all the roles in the opera to help them learn. SISO is a unique program, because the students ultimately perform alongside professional singers, like Villanueva, and it is interesting for Villanueva to wear both the teacher and performers hats. As part of this dual role, he also assists Eli with staging and offers the kids acting advice.
“What kids don’t often realize is that they can use their feelings and experiences of everyday life when creating a character,” discusses Villanueva. “Once the kids realize that they can bring themselves into these characters, it helps them gain the courage to perform and adds so much to the storytelling.”
Working with kids as part of SISO has been an incredible experience for Villanueva, who feels excited by the power of this program to boost children’s confidence in performance and in life.
“At the end of the day, I hope these kids step outside of their comfort zones and get a taste of what they can achieve,” says Villanueva.
Villanueva is currently working with students in Los Angeles schools on The White Bird of Poston, an opera composed and co-written by Eli. Last week, he and students from East Los Angeles Performing Arts Magnet performed the opera together for the first time at The Huntington Library Theater in San Marino. This week they take the opera on tour to schools across Los Angeles county, offering more kids the opportunity to experience opera.
To learn more about Secondary In-School Opera, click here.