Over 60 years 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, envisioned a training program that would not force young artists to go to Europe to hone their craft and that would serve as a living memorial to his predecessor, Gaetano Merola, who was an ardent supporter of young American singers. 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. Together, these three men created an environment where dreams could come true for talented young artists.
In the more than six decades since, Merola has grown from a 4-week program for 14 singers from the Western United States with two principal instructors to a 12-week program for 23 singers, five apprentice coaches, and one apprentice stage director from all around the world with a faculty of nearly 30 internationally esteemed artists. From presenting one or two concerts a year, we have expanded to a Summer Festival of two full opera productions, a concert of extended staged scenes, and the Merola Grand Finale.
Merola alumni can be found in an astounding number of stages and music staffs throughout the world as performers, production artists and teachers including Laura Claycomb, Mark Delevan, Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham, Jill Grove, Nancy Gustafson, Thomas Hampson, Brian Jagde, Quinn Kelsey, Janis Martin, Lucas Meachem, Leona Mitchell, Sylvia McNair, Anna Netrebko, Ann Panagulias, Ailyn Pérez, Patricia Racette, Michael Schade, Nadine Sierra, Stuart Skelton, Kurt Streit, Patrick Summers, Ruth Ann Swenson, Jess Thomas, Elza van den Heever, Carol Vaness, Rolando Villazón, Deborah Voigt, Janet Williams, Dolora Zajick, and numerous others.