Among the young artists of the 2013 Merola Opera Program making their San Francisco debut at this week's Schwabacher Summer Concerts is mezzo-soprano Zanda Švede from Latvia.
The singer, one of 23 from six countries chosen for the prestigious program (an independent organization that operates in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera), has an unusual story. She began singing professionally only four years ago, at age 24.
Although she had a well-paid, interesting career in travel marketing and management in Latvia, which allowed her to tour Europe, she switched to an uncertain, not always rewarding profession.
The reason: "I just felt it's not all I can do in my life. It was not fulfilling being in this world," she says.
She left her job and went back to school, to the country's only conservatory. She received a scholarship and then embarked on a singing career that led to auditions and additional training, including the Tyrolean Opera program in Austria last year.
There, she met American bass-baritone Richard Block, and after a wedding on May 25, the two, still on their honeymoon, headed to San Francisco, she to the Merola Program, he to the Opera Academy of California (led by another Latvian, Yefim Maizel, who attended the same conservatory as Švede).
Švede is not concerned about her late start.
"For low voices, it takes more time," she says. "They say my real career will start at 40, when I sing Verdi and so on. I am looking forward to that."
In the Merola Program, Švede says, master classes by Warren Jones and Jane Eaglen were especially enjoyable and important, offering her not only an abundance of information and the opportunity to improve, but also helping her form her musical personality.
It's a change from earlier student days spent simply being the recipient of lessons.
"Here you get so many opinions, you realize you have to figure out yourself who you are and who you want to be," says Švede, who is interested in the French repertory, and whose hobbies include knitting traditional Latvian mittens and socks.
At Schwabacher concerts today and Saturday, she will have three appearances, singing Isabella in Rossini's "The Italian Girl in Algiers," Beppe in Mascagni's "L'amico Fritz" and Emilia in Verdi's "Otello."
The concerts include the entire fourth act of "Otello," with Issachah Savage in the title role, Aviva Fortunata as Desdemona and Alex DeSocio as Iago.
Kevin Murphy conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in a concert that also includes excerpts from Verdi's "Don Carlo" and Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."Schwabacher Summer Concerts
Presented by the Merola Opera Program
Where: Everett Middle School, 450 Church St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Tickets: $25 to $40
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com
Note: The program repeats in a free concert at 2 p.m. Saturday in Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission Street between Third and Fourth streets, S.F.Upcoming S.F. performances
• "Le Nozze di Figaro": 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1 and 2 p.m. Aug. 3 at Everett Middle School
• Merola Grand Finale and reception: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave.