Sean Waugh



SAN FRANCISCO, CA (8 May 2024) – Merola Opera Program Board President Dr. James Cross has announced that after a nationwide search, Sean Waugh has been appointed the new Executive Director of the Merola Opera Program (Merola). Waugh succeeds Jean Kellogg whose distinguished tenure as Merola’s first-ever Executive Director concluded with her retirement in December 2023. Waugh joins the organization in advance of the 68th annual summer training program’s official launch on May 30th.

"Sean Waugh will be our organization’s second-ever Executive Director, following in the footsteps of Jean Kellogg and her 12 years of inspired leadership. We are confident we will be in the best of hands, and look forward to working with Sean as he leverages his wealth of experience and brings forward fresh perspectives to help advance the Program," said Cross.

As Merola’s Executive Director, Waugh will play a pivotal role in bringing to life the organization’s mission to define the future of opera by providing the highest-caliber professional training for emerging opera artists. As the chief steward and public ambassador for the organization, Waugh will lead Merola’s staff and partner with the Program’s Board of Directors, as well as with the leadership team of the San Francisco Opera Center who oversee the artistic aspects of the summer training program. Merola has recently invested in a multi-year strategic plan that Waugh will help implement, ensuring Merola remains at the forefront of young artist training by providing the next generation of talent with the resources and skills necessary to launch and sustain successful opera careers. 

Waugh brings more than 15 years of experience in the opera and performing arts fields to this appointment, most recently working for two revered San Francisco-based organizations: San Francisco Opera and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale. Waugh spent more than a decade with San Francisco Opera, starting his tenure as Assistant to the Director of Artistic Administration and subsequently moving into the role of Artistic Planning Manager. While at San Francisco Opera, Waugh participated in future season repertoire and casting, led strategic programming and digital transformation initiatives—including SF Opera Lab—and forged a multi-year partnership with Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( After leaving San Francisco Opera, Waugh joined Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale as Director of Artistic Strategy & Innovation—leading all artistic and strategic planning for the largest period-instrument ensemble in North America, managing the production of more than 50 live events and performances each year, overseeing the organization’s first composer-in-residence program and new music commissioning initiative, and growing its national and international touring operations. Prior to moving to the Bay Area, Waugh held positions at the Metropolitan Opera and Gotham Chamber Opera in New York, as well as the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston. Waugh earned a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from McGill University’s Schulich School of Music and completed graduate-level coursework in Performing Arts Management at New York University-Steinhardt.

The search for this position was overseen by Merola Chairman Patrick Wilken and Merola Immediate Past President Barbara Bruser Clark who worked with executive search firm Management Consultants for the Arts. “After embarking on a comprehensive coast-to-coast search, we found the ideal candidate right in our own artistic ‘back yard.’ We met exceptional candidates, but Sean stood out with a unique combination of forward-thinking innovation, a deep understanding of the Bay Area arts community, and last but not least, a demonstrated passion for opera and the emerging artists that will carry the art form forward.” said Wilken. Bruser Clark added: “Sean will lead an outstanding team, with deep respect for all that Merola has accomplished in its 67 years and with tremendous enthusiasm for finding and creating new opportunities for growth.”

Said Waugh, “I am excited to lead Merola as we envision the future of opera. Young artists are at the heart of this vision, and Merola has served as the opera world’s cornerstone in nurturing the next generation of opera for more than 65 years. Merola is truly unparalleled, not just in its whole artist approach to training, but also in how it fosters lifelong bonds between artists and supporters. I have had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the profound impact of these relationships and how Merola has influenced the ever-evolving opera industry for the better. As we look to the future, I am committed to collaboration, expanding our reach, and deepening our influence, ensuring that Merola not only contributes to but leads the conversation on what it means to be a whole artist and what the future of opera might be. I am honored to partner with Merola’s dedicated Board of Directors, staff, San Francisco Opera Center, alumni, and supporters to build upon this incredible legacy and help set the stage for its next chapters.”

Waugh will work closely with San Francisco Opera Center Artistic Director Carrie-Ann Matheson and San Francisco Opera Center General Manager Markus Beam. Matheson said, “The spirit of partnership that exists between Merola and the San Francisco Opera Center is truly one of a kind—with both organizations working toward a singular goal: to provide the wonderful artists we welcome summer after summer with the world-class training that is the hallmark of Merola. I very much look forward to continuing that partnership with Sean”. Beam stated, “Sean’s extensive experience and knowledge of the opera industry will most certainly help further Merola’s mission to train the whole artist and prepare them for the demands of a rewarding career. I welcome the opportunity to work with Sean in his new role.”  

“I congratulate the Merola Opera Program as they begin a fabulous new chapter under Sean’s leadership.” said San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock. “It has been a joy to work with Jean Kellogg for the past twelve years, and she passes the organization to Sean at a time of huge possibility for young artists as they navigate a rapidly changing landscape of musical opportunities. Sean’s work at San Francisco Opera made clear his passionate commitment to artistic and organizational integrity, and to innovating new ways of connecting artists and communities. We look forward to working with Sean in preparing young artists for deeply rewarding and impactful careers.”

The Merola Opera Program is widely regarded as the foremost opera training program for aspiring singers, pianists, and stage directors. Merola nurtures the opera stars of tomorrow through master classes and private coaching with opera’s most accomplished singers, conductors, and directors. Participants also receive training in operatic repertoire, languages, diction, acting, stage movement, and professional development. Offered free of charge to all participants, the Merola Opera Program is unique in the industry in many ways. It is the only young artist program to provide financial support to developing artists for five years following their participation, offering aid for essential career development expenses including coaching, language classes, and audition travel. Since Carrie-Ann Matheson and Markus Beam formed the new Merola artistic team in 2021, the program has redoubled its efforts to provide exciting new curricula and added focus on preparing the burgeoning artists for extramusical aspects of a performance career. Learn more at

MEDIA:     Tracy Grant, Merola Opera Program, (415) 297-3259 / 

PHOTOS:    Downloadable high-res photos are available here:
    photo credit: Grace Chung