Merola Opera turns 50 with 'Le Cenerentola'

At the very mention of the Merola Opera Program, opera lovers’ eyes invariably light up. Some recall the impressive number of world-class soloists, directors and coaches who have attended San Francisco Opera’s 11-week summer training and performing intensive.

Others, aware that young artists preparing for major careers bring a welcome freshness to oft-performed repertoire, anticipate the two opera productions Merola mounts each season.

This year, they’re “La Cenerentola,” Rossini’s droll take on the classic Cinderella tale, onstage this weekend, and the world premiere of “The Hotel Casablanca,” Thomas Pasatieri’s comedy about a wealthy Texan couple who attempts to toughen up their 25-year-old nephew visiting from New York.

Just about everyone eagerly awaits the Grand Finale — Aug. 18 this season — where a perpetually packed house cheers stars of the future strutting their stuff at the War Memorial Opera House.

Named in honor of Gaetano Merola, founder of San Francisco Opera, the Merola Opera Program is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

By the end of August, after almost three months of training in movement, language and voice, and master classes with world-class musicians such as singers Jane Eaglen, Frederica von Stade, Carol Vaness, Rockwell Blake and Sir Thomas Allen; pianists Steven Blier, Martin Katz and Warren Jones; and conductor Patrick Summers, it is likely that one ormore of this year’s graduates will join the world’s most prestigious opera houses.

Many Merolini frequently grace the stages of the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony. In addition to conductor Summers and singers Susan Graham, Joyce DiDonato, Charles Castronovo, Twyla Robinson, Oren Gradus and Elza van der? Heever, the renowned Dolora Zajick, Patricia Racette, Ruth Ann Swenson, Laura Claycomb, Jill Grove, Stuart Skelton, Deborah Voigt, Rolando Villazon, John Reylea and Thomas Hampson have recently made (or will soon make) appearances in the area.

IF YOU GO

Le Cenerentola

Presented by Merola Opera Program

Where: Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, Buchanan Street and Marina Boulevard, San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $35 to $48
Contact: (415) 864-3330 or sfopera.com 

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