In-School Opera Teaches Important Lessons Both On and Off the Stage

Opera not only offers transcendence and expands imaginations, but can also educate the public on social issues. LA Opera’s Elementary and Secondary In-School Operas do just that. Students from all over Los Angeles County learned this themselves just a few weeks ago when they performed alongside LA Opera artists in the Secondary In-School Opera (SISO), The White Bird of Poston, composed by Eli Villanueva with libretto by Leslie Stevens. This opera explores themes of service and citizenship, as well as the issues of prejudice, racism and cultural differences.

Students perform in Eli Villanueva’s The White Bird of Poston

The White Bird of Poston is a suitable choice for students just wetting their feet in the world of opera — the 50-minute piece is not only age-appropriate, but allows students to gain a deeper understanding of the world around them. The White Bird of Poston is set during World War II in a Japanese American internment camp. It tells the story of a Japanese American girl who forms a bond with a Native American boy while living at the Poston Internment Camp in southwestern Arizona. Through their friendship, they each learn to become leaders for their communities, and help each other rediscover their cultural traditions and history.

Each year, through the In-School Opera Program, LA Opera engages thousands of students within a 30-mile radius of the Music Center.  Annually, 50-75 students in each of 10 secondary schools and 15 elementary schools collaborate with LA Opera to present an opera. Across all the participating schools, about 1,500 students perform in an opera while their fellow students serve as the audience. All told, the program touches more than 3,000 middle and high school students and another 5,000 elementary students. Together, they are exposed to opera as an art form and learn about the historical significance of the story they experience.

Students perform in Eli Villanueva’s The White Bird of Poston

This year was particularly meaningful for the SISO program, as its staging of The White Bird of Poston was supported by four generous funders, The Binder Foundation, Beatrice and Paul F. Bennett, The California State Library Civil Liberties Public Education Project, and the California Arts Council. The special grant from the California State Library was given to LA Opera specifically to recognize the 75th anniversary of the Japanese American internment, and provide the public with information and comparisons to the civil-liberty violations experienced by Japanese Americans during WWII, shedding light on American history while keeping the memory of this event alive through the arts.

The program’s great success is based on the enthusiasm and support of participating teachers. These teachers go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure their students are exposed to and participate in the arts. They welcome the opportunity to give their students an intensive introduction to opera. To enhance curriculum across many content areas, LA Opera provides its participating teachers with materials and lesson plans that help them connect the program to literature, social science, history, world cultures and language skills.

“These teachers are our opera heroes,” says Stacy C. Brightman, Vice President, Education and Community Engagement. “We are honored to partner with such dedicated educators who are eager to expand the minds and hearts of their students through opera and the arts.”

For more information on Elementary and Secondary In-School Opera, click here.

LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.
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