Tag Archives: Arts Education

Eli Villanueva and LA Opera Boost Children’s Confidence Through the Arts

Eli Villanueva

Eli Villanueva

For the past fifteen years, Eli Villanueva has worked with LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement team to bring opera to the Los Angeles Community. An accomplished performer, stage director, and composer, Villanueva has performed in and composed several works for the company’s various education programs (Opera Camp, Opera Tales, and In-School Opera) and has also directed many community productions, including the popular operas staged annually at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Through his work, Villanueva strives to impact how children see the world and offer them the same excitement he had when he first “caught the opera bug.”

A Young Eli in the Boy's Choir

A Young Eli Villanueva in the Boy’s Choir

Villanueva caught the opera bug at age 12. At the time, the New York City Opera would tour in Los Angeles, staging a few operas a year. Villanueva performed with the California Boys Choir and through this choir was cast as a member of the children’s chorus in Puccini’s La Bohème. “I got to actually stand next to operas singers, which I thought was the most amazing thing,” recalls Villanueva. He continues, “I truly feel that it’s that experience of being next to an opera singer that really changes a child’s perspective of the whole art form.”

Villanueva’s work with the Education & Community Engagement team focuses on changing people’s perspective of opera.

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LA Opera Goes On Tour with Figaro Opera Tales

Leroy Villanueva and Ashley Faatoalia in Figaro Opera Tales; Photo: Jennifer Babcock

Leroy Villanueva and Ashley Faatoalia in Figaro Opera Tales; Photo: Jennifer Babcock

LA Opera has many programs to make sure that everyone has access to opera for little or no cost. Opera Tales is one of these programs. In partnership with the County of Los Angeles Public Library and with generous support provided by Los Angeles County Supervisors Don Knabe and Hilda Solis, LA Opera brings professional opera singers (or “opera pals”) to libraries around Los Angeles to perform musical moments from the most celebrated operas for families. Next month’s Figaro Opera Tales has the singers recounting tales from the entire Figaro Trilogy (Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles), as told by Pierre Beaumarchais.

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Every Student Succeeds…and Arts Education Helps

I’ve been fortunate to have had many wonderful teachers in my life, including Joe Marrella, who produced one of the most influential shows I participated in – a production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses. I still remember it fondly almost a decade later, because it was not just a high school theater show. Marrella challenged us to dig deeper into our characters, to see real life, current events connections to the play’s themes of love and greed that are universal. Yes, it was the arts, but it taught me that dramaturgy – really in depth research (the likes of which are done in any profession from journalism to opera to the scientific fields) – is vital to a successful performance.

I received an even greater sense of the importance of the arts in education when I started working as a journalist for LA Opera, just in time for Opera Camp. Today’s headlines are filled with stories of inequality, injustice and hate. Understanding our role in changing the world can be daunting. Through our annual Opera Camp program, LA Opera not only gives kids 9-17 the experience of staging an operatic performance, but also connects campers to the past and to today’s toughest issues. It brings context to headlines and shows them their impact on the world. (This past summer, campers got to visit the Japan-America National Museum, while working on The White Bird of Poston, an opera set in a WWWII Japanese internment camp.)

2015 Opera Campers Rehearsing "Then I Stood Up: A Civil Rights Cycle"

2015 Opera Campers Rehearsing Then I Stood Up: A Civil Rights Cycle

This further proved to me (and to those involved) that the arts are vital to raising well-rounded, socially conscious children.


That’s a word that sticks out to me, particularly in light of President Obama’s signing of a New Education Bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It aims to provide all elementary and secondary students with fair and equal opportunities to achieve a high quality education, and these provisions for arts education will ensure that all students, including those in high poverty schools, have the opportunity to access arts education. This replaces the current national educational law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), previously known as “No Child Left Behind.”

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