Merola Program puts future opera stars on the road to stardom 

During the next month, there will be numerous opportunities to hear “future stars of opera” at performances by participants in the Merola Program.

That monicker about stars has been routinely applied to the young artists almost since the beginning of this pathbreaking training program, started in 1954, and named in 1957 after Gaetano Merola, founder of the San Francisco Opera.

Isn’t the constant reference to future stars just hype or optimism? The answer is no, this is a matter of proven track record, the world of international opera being well populated by Merolini veterans.

Wherever you look, from last month’s “Ring” cycles in The City to the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, La Scala and elsewhere, there are the likes of Laura Claycomb, Mark Delavan, Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Anna Netrebko, Patricia Racette, Ruth Ann Swenson, Rolando Villazón, Deborah Voigt, Dolora Zajick and many, many other Merola alumni.

What they had and what today’s Merolini share is tuition, housing, travel expenses and stipends during 10 weeks of intensive training in every aspect of singing and performance. No longer directly subsidized by San Francisco Opera (although supported by the company in various ways), the program raises most of its $2 million annual budget from private contributions.

Merola 2011 consists of 20 singers, four apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director, representing six countries, chosen in nationwide auditions from more than 800 candidates.

Among them is Scott Quinn, a lyric tenor from Marshall, Texas, who will sing the title role in excerpts from Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at the Schwabacher Summer Concerts. Loyal to his state, he is a fan of both the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Cowboys.

And yet, such is the collegial power of music that San Francisco-born bass Adam Lau, a Giants fan — who will sing Basilio in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” — gets along with the misguided Texan just fine.

The other Basilio in the double-cast “Barber,” Peixin Chen, comes all the way from Inner Mongolia. From China: baritone GuoDong Feng, singing Rodrigo in “Don Carlo”; soprano Xi Wang, to sing Gilda in a substantial excerpt from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” at the Schwabacher concerts; Iowan mezzo Renée Rapier — singing Rosina in “Barber” — is deceptively slender while confessing a passion for cooking, eating and “good wine.”

Baritone John Maynard, from Orinda, is a composer, who started his musical career with heavy metal; he sings Bartolo in “Barber.” Tenor Cooper Nolan, from Florida, was an accounting major before he found opera “more interesting”; he appears in two important roles in the Schwabacher concerts. Baritone Mark Diamond, from Georgia, played professional Ultimate Frisbee, but here, he will be the barber himself in the Rossini opera. And so on.

There will be some great biographical notes when these names appear in programs of world’s great opera houses ... for sure.


Schwabacher Summer Concert

Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 7:30 p.m. July 22

Tickets: $15 to $40

Outdoor Schwabacher Summer Concert

: Yerba Buena Gardens, Fourth and Mission streets, San Francisco

When: 2 p.m. July 24

Free event

Rossini, “The Barber of Seville”

Herbst Theatre

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 4 and 5; 2 p.m. Aug. 6 and 7

Tickets: $25 to $60

Merola Grand Finale

War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20

Tickets: $15 to $45

Contact for all events: (415) 864-3330,

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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