Merola Opera Program Celebrates Diamond Anniversary with a New Opera

Janos Gereben on February 10, 2017
Composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer await their turn at the announcement of their commissioned opera; photos on the table are of Merola greats of the past | Credit: Janos Gereben

Established by San Francisco Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler and named for his predecessor, Gaetano Merola, who founded the company, Merola Opera Program is about to embark on its 60th season.

Now the oldest and largest such program supporting young artists as they launch professional careers, Merola has hundreds of alumni performing around the world, including some of opera’s greatest stars. Many alumni have also participated in SFO’s associated Adler Fellowship Program. The anniversary session provides an all-expenses-paid 12-week summer opera training program in San Francisco for 29 young artists from Canada, Poland, China, Colombia, Mexico, and 14 states; they were selected from more than 600 auditioned applicants.

The highlight of the 2017 season’s announcement today at the Diane B. Wilsey Center was that composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer will write Merola Program’s first commissioned work for its world premiere in 2019. Commissioning and production are made possible by major donations from Barbara Bruser Clark and Scott Lord.

Based on a 1947 novel of the same name by the late French-American writer Julien Green, If I Were You is a Faustian fantasy about the devil enabling a young man to transfer his soul into other people’s bodies. “It is a quest for your place in the world,” Heggie said, adding that it provides for at least six major roles in addition to the hero. Heggie spoke of his decades-long familiarity and collaboration with SFO and Merola, paying tribute to the program and speaking enthusiastically of the opportunity to work once again with young artists. Heggie and Scheer have collaborated on Moby-Dick, It’s A Wonderful Life, Three Decembers, Out of Darkness, To Hell and Back, and The Radio Hour.

Moby-Dick, by Heggie and Scheer, was cocommissioned and premiered by the San Francisco Opera, and featured numerous Merola alumni | Credit: Cory Weaver

The 60th anniversary season opens with a benefit gala on June 11, starting in San Francisco City Hall and continuing in Herbst Theater, featuring illustrious Merola alumni, including Deborah Voigt (’85), Catherine Cook (90), Zanda Svede (’13), Dolora Zajick (’83), Quinn Kelsey (’02), Mark Morash (’89), and others. Staged performances of the season include a triple bill of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, Gustav Holst’s Sāvitri, and William Walton’s The Bear; performances of Rossini’s La Cenerentola; two Schwabacher Summer Concerts (one as Merola’s first performance in Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall); and the annual Grand Finale in the War Memorial Opera House

Recalling the years of his San Francisco Opera association, Heggie said that throughout his career as a composer and pianist, “I’ve had the great opportunity to collaborate with an array of dazzling singers. Time and again, I’m delighted to discover how many of them have a connection with the great Merola Opera Program.

“What an indelible difference Merola has made as the standard bearer for young artist programs! Just consider its history and the number of careers that have begun with Merola. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of composing dozens of roles and songs for Merolini, and the great pleasure of seeing them inhabit and create characters in my operas.”

Tickets for the 2017 season go on sale April 17, available by calling the SFO Box Office at (415) 864-3330 or by visiting or

The Merola Class of 2017 consists of the following (returning artists with an asterisk):


Kendra Berentsen, Portland, Oregon
Mathilda Edge, Chandlerville, Illinois
Natalie Image, Tsawwassen, British Columbia, Canada
Jana McIntyre*, Santa Barbara, California
Felicia Moore, Princeton, New Jersey
Alexandra Razskazoff, New Brighton, Minnesota
Kelsea Webb, Anderson, Indiana


Alice Chung, Loma Linda, California
Ashley Dixon*, Peachtree City, Georgia
Edith Grossman, Elma, New York
Samantha Hankey, Marshfield, Massachusetts


Andres Acosta, Miami, Florida
Anthony Ciaramitaro, Coral Springs, Florida
Xingwa Hao, Zhan Jiang City, Guang Dong, China
Addison Marlor, Salt Lake City, Utah


Thomas Glass, Edina, Minnesota
Dimitri Katotakis, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Andrew Hiers, West Palm Beach, Florida
Daniel Noyola, San Luis Potosí, Mexico
Christian Pursell, Santa Cruz, California
Cody Quattlebaum*, Ellicott City, Maryland
Szymon Wach*, Lublin, Poland
David Weigel*, Asheville, North Carolina

Apprentice Coaches

César Cañón, Bogotá, Colombia
Tuomas Juutilainen, Jyväskylä, Finland
James Maverick, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Michael Sherman, Los Angeles, California
Andrew Sun, West Windsor, New Jersey

Apprentice Stage Director

Victoria Crutchfield, New York, New York

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