Merola’s Voices ’Round the World’

San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program will mark its 50th birthday next year with a celebration dubbed “Voices Heard ’Round the World.”

At a press conference on Monday, Merola Board President David Hugle, Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald and San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley joined to announce a celebration of the anniversary, including the premiere of a commissioned work from Thomas Pasatieri.

“Hotel Casablanca,” to be performed Aug. 3 and 5, 2007, is based on Georges Feydeau’s 1907 “A Flea in Her Ear,” but the new opera is set in 1940s Texas. (A Texan, S.F. Opera boss Gockley commissioned what was to become Pasatieri’s best-known work, “The Seagull,” in 1972, at the beginning of Gockley’s 33-year-long run as general director of the Houston Grand Opera.)

Other anniversary-year Merola events are a gala concert on May 19; Rossini’s “Cenerentola” (Martin Katz, conductor; Jose Maria Condemi, director; Erik Flatmo, designer), July 13 and 15 (coaches to include Frederica von Stade and Thomas Allen); a free performance in Yerba Buena Gardens, July 29; and the Merola Grand Finale, Aug. 18, conducted by Patrick Summers.

Merola is the world’s oldest and probably biggest training program for young singers, having produced more than 1,000 graduates (“Merolini”), some of whom have become international stars. The honor list of distinguished alumni includes sopranos Ruth Ann Swenson, Carol Vaness, Deborah Voigt, baritone Thomas Hampson and conductor Summers.

Created in 1957 by Kurt Herbert Adler and James Schwabacher, the program is named after Gaetano Merola, 1881-1953, the Opera’s founder and first general director.

Although a July 1, 1957, performance in Stern Grove is the official beginning of Merola, there were training programs here even before then, but not in the current format and organization.

In 1954, the antecedent of the current program was called the Merola Fund, established to help with auditions for comprimario roles at the opera.

Since then, the Merola Program has developed into an annual three-month summer program of classes, coaching, performance opportunities, post-program support and a “graduate level” continuation for some as Adler Fellows, who are seen in the company’s productions.

On Tuesday, participants in that program will offer a gala concert of arias and opera scenes in the Opera House, called “The Future Is Now.” Donald Runnicles will conduct the Opera Orchestra.

The Future is Now: Adler Fellows gala concert

Presented by San Francisco Opera

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Where:War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

Tickets: $35 to $75

Contact: (415) 864-3330 or www.sfopera.com

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