Three weeks before the San Francisco Opera's 91st season opens, the company's home will serve as the venue to a very special gala. It's graduation night at the War Memorial Opera House for the Merola Opera Program's class of 2013.
The 23 young singers in Saturday's Merola Grand Finale sometimes are called the stars of tomorrow, but they are winners already, even before being engaged by opera companies in the U.S. and Europe.
Selected in a worldwide audition from more than 1,000 applicants for the program's 56th season, they have received 10 weeks of training and given acclaimed performances in staged operas and the Schwabacher Summer Concert.
Now they will perform in the opera house, before a large, knowledgeable audience, which includes talent scouts.
John DeMain conducts the opera orchestra in 16 arias, duets and ensembles. Stage director is George Cederquist, a member of the Merola class.
"The Merola Grand Finale is our chance to show how much we've grown and how much potential we have," Cederquist says. "My goal is to create a staged concert that is celebratory, beautiful and fluid. This is not the time for highly conceptual work. My aim is to help my singer colleagues sound great, act great and look great, and I intend to do just that."
Two young tenors' grand finale performances are especially anticipated.
Pene Pati, a New Zealander of Samoan ancestry, has a pure, strong, lyric voice. He will be heard in a duet from Massenet's "Manon," with soprano Maria Valdes, and in the title role of the closing ensemble from Bernstein's "Candide."
Philadelphian Issachah Savage's tenor has a heft to it that served him well in the title roles in Verdi's "Otello" in a concert excerpt last month, and Wagner's "Lohengrin," whose entrance aria he will perform at the gala.
Rihab Chaieb and Linda Barnett sing a duet from Barber's "Vanessa," Efrain Solis and John Arnold sing an excerpt from Rossini's "La Cenerentola," and Jacqueline Piccolino and David Weigel appear in Verdi's "Luisa Miller."
Mezzo Zanda Svede sings an aria from Gounod's rarely heard "Sapho," Casey Finnigan performs Max's aria from Weber's "Die Freischütz," and others sing from operas by Mozart, Offenbach, Korngold and Purcell.