The small town of Bayreuth in Germany has been the mecca for Richard Wagner fans around the world since 1876, and the composer’s last work, “Parsifal,” has always had special importance there.
In this year’s festival, running through August, the title role of “Parsifal” is being sung by Simon O’Neill, a San Francisco Merola Opera Program veteran of 2002, to great praise.
Aspirants to similar operatic fame, young singers of the Merola class of 2011 will strut their stuff this week in four staged performances of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” one of opera’s most popular comic-romantic works.
In the production, a highlight of Merola’s 54th season, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra will be squeezed onto the stage of Herbst Theatre, leaving the front portion open for the singers.
To offer opportunity to all 20 Merolini singers, the opera is double-cast, with singers in principal roles appearing in two performances, and the remaining vocalists pitching in as chorus members.
Among program singers from many states and a handful of countries (including Inner Mongolia and South Korea) are two local artists.
Adam Lau — singing the bass role of Don Basilio, a troublemaker with a big aria (“La calunnia”) about the uses of spreading rumors — began his career as a boy soprano.
“I started my vocal training only after college, where I was planning to go into marine biology. My relationship with patter singing started much earlier,” Lau says. “In fourth grade at Town School for Boys in Pacific Heights I sang the role of the Modern Major General in the Gilbert & Sullivan ‘Pirates of Penzance’ as a boy soprano. From that moment on, I’ve loved the challenge of spitting out notes and words in a rapid pace.”
One of the two baritones singing the role of Dr. Bartolo is John Maynard from Orinda, coming to The City by way of UC Berkeley and the New England Conservatory of Music.
He, too, is a late starter in opera. After playing football and rugby at Miramonte High School in Orinda, he went into heavy metal, “playing with hardcore metal bands in abandoned warehouses in Richmond. I had no idea I would be singing opera at all, let alone on the stage of the San Francisco Opera.” (He and fellow participants appear in the program’s finale on Aug. 20 at the War Memorial Opera House.)
While singing another smaller “Barber” role with West Bay Opera in Palo Alto, he says he was “amazed how fast Bartolo sang his words. Now I’m singing the role with Merola.”
The title role is being sung by Jonathan Michie of Rochester, N.Y., and Mark Diamond of Augusta, Ga. The female lead, Rosina, is cast for Suzanne Rigden of Nova Scotia, Canada, and Renée Rapier of Marion, Iowa. The role of Berta is shared by Deborah Nansteel of Havelock, N.C. and Marina Boudart Harris of Whittier.
IF YOU GO
Presented by Merola Opera Program
Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Tickets: $25 to $60
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20
Tickets: $15 to $45
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com/tickets