Merola Summer Festival: Women make history in classical music concert series

  • by Philip Campbell
  • Monday June 17, 2024
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Mezzo-soprano Simona Genga (Merola '23) returns as one of the 29 young artists selected for the 2024 Merola Opera Program. (photo: Kristen Loken)
Mezzo-soprano Simona Genga (Merola '23) returns as one of the 29 young artists selected for the 2024 Merola Opera Program. (photo: Kristen Loken)

For the first time in 67 years, San Francisco's treasured Merola Opera Program has made women the three stage directors for the 2024 season. Always known for diversity and inclusion, it is a surprising and welcome first. The organization's upcoming Summer Festival features two celebrated alums and this year's participant Stage Director- all women.

Rightfully recognized as the foremost U.S. training program for aspiring singers, pianists, and stage directors, Merola is a true meritocracy. International and American stars of tomorrow learn their craft through master classes and private coaching with well-established conductors, singers, and directors.

Offered free of charge to all, it is the only young artist program to provide financial support for five years following participation. Since powerhouse opera administrator Carrie-Ann Matheson (San Francisco Opera Center Artistic Director) and Certified Life Coach Markus Beam (Merola '02; San Francisco Opera Center General Manager) formed the new Merola artistic team in 2021, the program has been renewed and augmented.

The 2024 Merola Summer Festival starts June 27 with an evening of vocal chamber music at the intimate Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater, on the fourth floor of the Beaux Arts-designed Veterans Building. Equipped with the remarkable but virtually undetectable Meyer Sound Constellation Acoustic System, the venue is perfect for smaller events.

"The Song as Drama" highlights the narrative arc of song with selections from various eras and styles. Artistic Director Carrie-Ann Matheson and famous out and glad to tell you Bay Area tenor Nicholas Phan (a noted Bach and Benjamin Britten performer and musical educator) will co-curate the recital.

Mezzo-soprano Lucy Joy Atlus (Merola '23) returns as one of the 29 young artists selected for the 2024 Merola Opera Program. (photo: Kristen Loken)  

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, just blocks from SF Jazz and Davies Symphony Hall hosts the next Festival event, The Schwabacher Summer Concert July 11 and 13.

The show features semi-staged scenes from operas by Donizetti, Gounod, Leoncavallo, Massenet, Puccini, and Richard Strauss performed with a full orchestra conducted by Louis Lohraseb. Omer Ben Seadia (Merola '14) and Anna Theodosakis (Merola '24) are stage directors.

Merola next presents a fully staged production of Mozart's glorious "Don Giovanni," with two performances August 1 and 3 at the SF Conservatory Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall. The director is none other than jubilantly out soprano and world-renowned singing actor Patricia Racette (Merola '88).

Regulars of the San Francisco Opera are well aware of her extraordinary musical and theatrical talents. Her once-in-a-generation Cio-Cio-San ("Madama Butterfly") remains indelibly etched in memory. The dark and complicated passion of the devilish Don should be mother's milk to her and the former Merola superstar has an opportunity to give back.

Merola artists will perform all roles. Stefano Sarzani, an active educator, conductor and, pianist will make his Merola debut on the podium.

The season concludes August 17 with the Merola Grand Finale, a gala concert featuring the 2024 Merola participants, presented at the War Memorial Opera House. A reception with the artists in the Green Room at the War Memorial building follows the performance (separate admission).

All 29 talented youngsters from across the United States and Canada, as well as Australia, China, France, Georgia, and South Korea, who were selected from more than 1,300 international applicants, join in a musical feast of famous operatic works and lesser-known gems.

Maestro Steven White, praised as a conductor who "squeezes every drop of excitement and pathos from the score," and 2024 Merola Stage Director Anna Theodosakis are in charge of the production.

It only takes one taste of the 'Merolini' spirit to become an enthusiastic supporter. The participants simply wouldn't be there if they didn't deserve it and their level of professionalism and musical brilliance is awesome. There is a certainty you will be catching some rising stars.

San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St.
Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave.
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave.

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