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Half a century ago, a program began that would change the face of opera training in the United States. Kurt Herbert Adler, San Francisco Opera’s second General Director, dared to dream of a training program unlike any other for aspiring operatic professionals, one that did not force these budding singers to go to Europe to hone their craft. This program would serve as a living memorial to his predecessor, Gaetano Merola, who had been an ardent supporter of young singers.
To ensure the Program started on the most solid footing, Adler sought the support of three opera luminaries: James H. Schwabacher, Jr., tenor, scholar and teacher; Matthew Farruggio, San Francisco Opera’s production coordinator and stage director; and Otto Guth, esteemed pianist and vocal coach. In collaboration, the three men provided passionate direction to the infant program, creating an environment where dreams could come true for talented young artists.
Since then, the Merola Opera Program has blossomed into an internationally respected model for building solid careers in opera, with a proven balance of training, performance and individualized support. From a four-week program with only 14 singers, mostly from the Western United States, it has grown to an 12-week program which fosters and challenges 23 singers, five apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director from countries round the world each year.
The success of the Merola Opera Program shows in the brilliant careers the Program has helped launch. Many have become the virtual "who’s who" of opera. The Program has nurtured the talents of Brian Asawa, Laura Claycomb, Mark Delevan, Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham, Jill Grove, Nancy Gustafson, Thomas Hampson, Janis Martin, Leona Mitchell, Sylvia McNair, Anna Netrebko, Ann Panagulias, Patricia Racette, Michael Schade, Kurt Streit, Patrick Summers, Ruth Ann Swenson, Jess Thomas, Carol Vaness, Rolando Villazón, Deborah Voigt, Janet Williams, Dolora Zajick and numerous others. Merola alumni can be found in an astounding number of venues throughout the world as performers, production artists and teachers.