LA Opera has made a mission of bringing opera into LA County schools and students to the opera. Through several programs, the company introduces and shares a love of opera with kids and teens across the county. Students learn about opera from singers and staff, and experience productions geared toward teaching them the “big ideas” about the art form. However, presenting opera isn’t enough. LA Opera collaborates with teachers to integrate the music and theater standards of the opera with their English language arts and/or history curriculum standards. LA Opera’s production of Figaro’s American Adventure, which the company performs to thousands of students at venues across the county, is a great example of this arts-integrated learning.
Written by Eli and Leroy Villanueva, Figaro’s American Adventure is a wildly imaginative and engaging celebration of Rossini’s opera, The Barber of Seville, based on the play by writer, spy, and revolutionary, Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais. Students are transported to colonial America where, with his band of sneaky barbers and colonial compatriots, Figaro leads them on a delightful musical goose chase. Ultimately, Beaumarchais outsmarts his adversary and he helps his friend the Count win the hand of his beloved Rosina.
While the opera is light and fun, students learn about opera and history from the experience. Weeks before attending the performance, their teachers have introduced them production’s themes and the history of Beaumarchais in the classroom.
LA Opera provides teachers with an educator resource packet which includes lesson plans the opera’s themes and history, suggested exercises, primary source readings—even sheet music. The Figaro’s American Adventure classroom materials are tailored so that teachers can easily address English language arts or history curriculum standards while meeting music and drama standards as well.
For example, one of the opera’s themes is class struggle. It explores the relationships between the aristocracy, the working middle class, and the apprentices in the strictly hierarchical society of 18th-century France and America. From a historical perspective, teachers can use Figaro’s American Adventure to lead lessons on how class differences were one of the causes of the American (and French) Revolution. From a musical perspective, teachers and students can discuss the history of opera in the period of Beaumarchais and how the music itself was revolutionary, including the class struggle presented through The Barber of Seville.
Beyond the materials, LA Opera invites teachers to its offices to receive targeted instruction and tips on arts-integration. This professional development provides classroom teachers, who may not feel comfortable teaching music or theater as a part of their normal curriculum, an opportunity to gain easy strategies to integrate the arts into their classroom.
Figaro’s American Adventure is just one prime example of arts integrated learning—and luckily, not the only such opera that LA Opera has commissioned and staged in its various education programs.
To learn more about Figaro’s American Adventure and LA Opera’s education programs, click here.