They come from Korea, Russia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and from coast to coast in the United States to sing in San Francisco, to train for a career in opera and to provide low-cost performances for opera fans otherwise starved between seasons. (Think of culinary-academy fare for music fans.)
Selected from among many hundreds of applicants, they are the Merolini, the 51st class of proud young singers participating in the San Francisco Opera Merola Program.
Gaetano Merola was the founding father of the San Francisco Opera, becoming the first general manager in 1923. Kurt Herbert Adler (1905-88) took the job when Merola died in 1953, and ran the company for three decades, putting The City on the map of the opera world, and second in the nation after New York’s Metropolitan.
In 1957, Adler created a training program for young singers, and named it for his predecessor. Since then, the global village of opera has been enhanced by hundreds of these San Francisco-trained singers, many getting their first big breaks from local reviews.
Now, 23 singers and five apprentice coaches are training, rehearsing and performing for 10 weeks before a Grand Finale concert appearance in the Opera House on Aug. 16.
With a free Yerba Buena Gardens appearance (attracting thousands), a Herbst Theatre concert (revealing Leah Crocetto, a sensational soprano from Michigan) and a Fort Mason performance of Benjamin Britten’s comic opera “Albert Herring” completed over the weekend, Merolini now are preparing for Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” next month.
Mozart’s doomed anti-hero is sung by baritone Austin Kness (Cedar Rapids, Iowa); soprano Rena Harms (Santa Fe, N.M.) is Donna Elvira; soprano Amanda Majeski (Gurnee, Ill.) is Donna Anna and soprano Joélle Harvey (Richburg, N.Y.) is Zerlina.
Mexican bass-baritone Carlos Monzón (Guadalajara) sings Leporello, and his countryman tenor David LomelÌ (Monterrey, Mexico) is Don Ottavio. Gary Wedow conducts and famed soprano Catherine Malfitano is the stage director.