San Francisco Opera announced the retirement today of Sheri Greenawald, the Director of the San Francisco Opera Center and Artistic Director for the Merola Opera Program. Greenawald, 72, has been in that position since 2002 and has been an extraordinary teacher, coach, and career shaman to more than 500 young singers in that time.
The Merola Program takes young singers, Stage directors, and accompanist/ coaches of exceptional talent and put them through a summer of intensive training and career preparation, culminating in a staged production. The 12-week program is all expenses paid, and every Merola artist is eligible for artists are eligible for Career Grants (up to $6,000 in a given year and up to $12,000 total) for five years after their Merola summer. These grants, for everything from audition travel to headshots to vocal coaching, help the young artists transition to the professional opera world. Several of the Merola singers are then selected to be Adler Fellows, essentially affiliate artists with San Francisco Opera who, in addition to receiving more intensive training also are cast in mainstage productions.
The numbers may tell part of the story, but Greenawald’s personality and her ability to connect with singers, reassure them, and help develop their talents has really been done at the micro level. She is praised for her ability to communicate concepts in tangible, relatable ways and for her insight into the art form, which allows singers to deepen their musicianship and their technique together. As soon as her retirement was announced the testimonials started coming in.
Elza van den Heever (Merola 2003/04; Adler Fellow 2005–07) who sings Leonora in the Company’s new production of Fidelio this fall, stated: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that I am where I am today because of Sheri Greenawald. With her extraordinary intuition and ear, she took me under her wing and guided me through my crucial and life-altering transition from mezzo-soprano to soprano. She believed in me and my talent even when I did not. Sheri has been an incredible influence in my life, and as a young singer introduced me to a broader landscape both vocally and philosophically which has made all the difference. Her vast experience through her own incredible career, her never-ending inquisitive mind, her deep knowledge of the voice, and above all else, her search for truth and beauty have shaped her into one of the finest voice teachers and most caring individuals I know—and one to whom I am forever grateful.”