Reinventing an Artform with HALO

Meet Holy City Arts & Lyric Opera (HALO), the organization reintroducing opera to a new generation of music lovers.

At The Restoration, we have a saying, “We don’t preserve history, we reinvent it.”  

And that’s exactly what HALO does for the performing arts.

Founded in 2015 by opera singers Leah Edwards and Dimitri Pittas, HALO is quickly becoming a premiere performing arts organization through its innovative approach to reinventing opera for new audiences and generations. From large-scale productions to intimate performances and cultural tours, Charleston’s first full-time opera company is solely responsible for reclaiming the city’s title as the birthplace of opera and making the art form more accessible to all. 

We had the pleasure of connecting with General Director, Leah Edwards, on overcoming the misconceptions of opera, nurturing homegrown talent, and the future of HALO. 

How is HALO changing people’s perspective on Opera?

“Opera” is just the Italian word for “work” (understood to mean “a work of musical theater”). When the United States began forming a uniquely American identity after WWI, we began using the English words “musical theater” to define the same art form.  From its beginning, opera has been a vehicle for storytelling and connecting communities, using the popular music of the day to express deep emotions and new ideas. We recognize that there are often negative connotations surrounding the word “opera”, and are working to remove the barriers of preconceived notions, readjust expectations, and create an environment that is welcoming and accessible to everyone.

What has been your most “unorthodox” production to date?

Today’s audience has a hard time seeing themselves in stories that are told through period clothes and historically dated situations. Because of this, we are deliberate about choosing a variety of works that we can set within identifiable timeframes and contexts. We love activating unconventional spaces with theatrical productions because it automatically removes the barrier of expectations, and grants permission for everyone to take in ‘an experience’ (rather than ‘a show’). Our production of ‘La Traviata’ was set in 1986, beginning on the eve of Game 6 of the World Series (Mets vs. Red Sox), featured classic cars, had a 90-second fireworks show, and was mounted at our local single-A ballpark. Our production of ‘ Into the Woods’ was mounted on the historic Battery Gadsden, using the actual woods as our backstage crossover space, and for our production of ‘Rigoletto’, we built an NCAA regulation half-basketball court, had supertitles screens that doubled as scoreboards, bleacher seating, a marching band, and concessions to consume during the show. As much as possible, we like to keep the audience seated on the same level as the actors and orchestra, so everyone feels intimately involved in the story. 

How are you nurturing homegrown talent in the city? 

Arts education in Charleston, from preschool to high school, is exceptional. Our role as a fully professional performing arts organization is to provide local talent with consistent opportunities to further their careers in their hometown. Since 2019, five artists have made their professional stage debuts with HALO, alongside visiting Tony and Grammy Award-winning artists. We have had 3 native Charlestonians who are enjoying thriving careers elsewhere return to Charleston to perform with HALO, one of whom went on to make her Carnegie Hall debut as a result of the connections she made while working with us. From an educational perspective, HALO artists frequently make school presentations to share the details of pursuing a career in the performing arts—on stage, behind the scenes, in leadership roles, as writers—with young audiences. 

What is your vision for the HALO’s role as an arts leader in Charleston?

Accessibility to and appreciation for the arts is paramount to our mission. HALO is committed to presenting a wide range of programming that includes large-scale productions, intimate concerts, education initiatives, and community events so that everyone can experience the performing arts in a way that’s most comfortable for them. From Verdi to Sondheim to commissioned works, our theatrical productions focus on telling real, human stories that are relatable and relevant to today’s audience. Our curated historical walking tour gives context to the evolution of theater in Charleston, instilling a sense of ownership and civic pride amongst locals and visitors. Online and in-person learning opportunities allow for discovery from 101 courses to detailed deep dives. Serving as a beacon of progress and possibility, HALO will continue to be the catalyst that brings together artists and audiences, businesses and charities, civil servants, and private citizens, creating a culture where all people can flourish through the arts.

Thanks to The Restoration’s exclusive partnership with HALO, guests can create their own personalized musical tour of the city through our Ode to Opera Package. Immerse yourself in a 90-minute walking tour of Downtown Charleston’s most iconic locations, including the spot where opera was first performed in America, then choose to add on tickets to one of HALO’s live productions and/or dinner at The Watch Rooftop. Call 877.221.7202 to book today!

To learn more about HALO’s mission and upcoming schedule of events, visit, or follow them on social media at @holycityarts.