Students run around opera singer LeRoy Villanueva as they perform "The Marriage of Figueroa" as part of the L.A. Opera program at Ybarra Academy of the Arts in Walnut on Thursday November 5, 2009. The L.A. Opera has been working fifth grade students for over a month on the opera production. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Keith Durflinger)

They're too young to be married. And there wasn't a mezzo-soprano or bass among them.

But the fifth-graders at Ybarra Academy of the Arts in Walnut still sounded great as they rehearsed "The Marriage of Figueroa" before their big performances on Thursday and Friday. No one seemed nervous as they listened closely to instructors from the LA Opera.

The professional opera singers had been coming out to the Rowland Unified school once a week to teach the kids their roles as chorus members in the charming opera, which composers Eli and LeRoy Villanueva based on Mozart's famous "The Marriage of Figaro."

The five-week program culminated in performances in front of the whole school, as well as family and friends.

"They're doing a very good job," said LA Opera's Eli Villanueva during rehearsals.

Villanueva said he has enjoyed working with area schools for the past 17 years. Villanueva teaches the students singing, movement and visual arts as they perform alongside LA Opera artists.

The little Ybarra performers seemed particularly adept in the bickering scene between men and women. Or in this case, between boys and girls.

"It's been absolutely wonderful for our fifth graders to have this chance to perform with LA Opera," said Principal Annette Ramirez.

Ramirez said the 80 students had been broken down into two rehearsal groups every Thursday morning.

At one of those rehearsals, teacher Joan Sharp

listened closely to see if any of her students sounded flat. Everyone seemed to know the words to all the numbers.

"We've also been practicing in class, so they're comfortable with the songs," Sharp said.

The fifth-grade instructor said she's seen a big change in her students over the past month.

"It's given them all a lot of confidence. Many were painfully shy before we started this project," Sharp said.

Even the young men were enjoying their parts in the performance. Dallas Cox, 10, was really getting into his part.

"I like singing," admitted Dallas, who said he also practices at home.

Some students even auditioned for the two speaking roles in the opera.

Sabrina Liao won one of the coveted roles. You could say opera is in her blood because her father is also an opera singer.

"He's performed with the real LA Opera," Sabrina boasted.

Now the 10-year-old will get her chance to test her pipes with the famous opera group.

Classmate Rachel Villareal also felt brave enough to go for a starring role. The 10-year-old calmly delivered her lines in front of her peers.

LA Opera had promised to make a big production for the opera, with lights and scenery.

"This really rounds out their schooling," said teacher Sparks. "Learning is not always found in a book."

richard.irwin@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801