Zanaida Robles Inspires Students Through Opera

Zanaida Robles working with students during Opera Camp (2016)

Zanaida Robles working with students during Opera Camp (2016); Photo: Gennia Cui

She fell in love with music at the age of seven. Now, Zanaida Robles is an established singer, conductor, composer, and music instructor. As an LA Opera teaching artist, she’s bringing her experience and love for the music to work by inspiring the next generation of opera lovers.

What experience you ask? Robles has performed under the baton of Charles Dutoit, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Gustavo Dudamel. She’s sung background with the Rolling Stones, Andrea Bocelli, and Juanes. For five years, Robles also served as the director of classical choirs at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. As both a performer and an instructor, it is no surprise that she feels at home working with LA Opera’s education and community programs.

Robles first worked as an LA Opera teaching artist in the summer of 2015 for Opera Camp. In this two-week immersive program, Robles taught campers ages 9-17 about opera – the artistry, the production, the skills – and prepared them to perform one. But that’s not all. Robles also taught kids to stand up for what they believe in, because the operas performed through the camp carry themes of social justice and connect campers to the past and to today’s toughest issues.

“It was inspiring to see campers encouraged to find their voice,” recalls Robles. “I watched kids who were shy and afraid to express themselves really owning their characters and believing that their voices mattered. It was a powerful experience that renewed my commitment to teaching.”

The next year, Robles returned as a teaching artist and her daughter joined the camp. Robles saw a change in her daughter during the camp, where they staged the full “Then I Stood Up” (which told the stories of several teenagers who stood up to racism during the Civil Rights Era). “I saw how she felt like she had some knowledge about her history and could speak intelligently about civil rights,” discusses Robles.

Inspired by teaching during Opera Camp, Robles has expanded her involvement with LA Opera’s community engagement and education programs.

Robles goes into schools through Voices for Tolerance program. In this LA Opera program, Robles partners with teachers to create, multi-week, choral programs that foster a love of music and are integrated into the curriculum, featuring themes of community building, social justice, and cooperative action. Projects culminate in live performance and have included original operas based on classroom personal heritage projects, choral recitals exploring folk and protest music from around the world, and a pageant inspired by the Greek Olympics.

Of classroom teaching, Robles says, “I’m a creative, improvisatory teacher, but I really start with the music.” Through Voices for Tolerance, Robles builds a relationship with the students through music. She starts by teaching them the chosen repertoire (which included spirituals like “Guide My Feet” or various holiday songs). The students learn the music and then slowly understand the emotions behind it.

“At the end, when the students know the songs, they ask, ‘What does it mean?’” discusses Robles. She continues, “The conversations that you get to then have with these students is the best part. They trust you and feel validated to discuss tough issues and then feel a stronger connection to the music.”

In addition to Opera Camp and Voices for Tolerance, Robles will serve as Assistant Director for Noah’s Flood, LA Opera’s annual community opera at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. As it is each year, the opera will be conducted by LA Opera Music Director James Conlon.

Of this, Robles says, “I cannot wait to see Maestro Conlon work and I feel honored to play a role in this production.”

While Robles looks forward to the performances at the Cathedral, she’s most excited for her favorite part of the process – the dress rehearsal.

“The dress rehearsal is when everyone realizes, ‘Oh, this is what it’s like.’” Says Robles. She continues, “The bonding process is priceless and I can’t wait to see what that is like at the Cathedral.”

For more information about LA Opera’s education and community engagement programs, click here.

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