Merola Opera Program

Opera singer Leontyne Price directing a master class in the Merola Opera Program in 1986.

Merola Opera Program is a San Francisco based training program for opera singers, coaches, and stage directors.

Merola Opera Program

Merola Opera Program is a world-renowned opera training and performance program for promising young artists and closely associated with San Francisco Opera. Named for San Francisco Opera's first general director, Gaetano Merola, the Merola Opera Program began during the 1954-55 season and established its full training program in 1957.

Merola has served as a proving ground for hundreds of artists, including Brian Asawa, Gregory Carroll, Mark Delavan, Julianna Di Giacomo, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Bryan Hymel, Gary Lakes, Joyce DiDonato, Sylvia McNair, Anna Netrebko, Patricia Racette, Kurt Streit, Fernando del valle, Patrick Summers, Ruth Ann Swenson, Jess Thomas, Riki Turofsky, Ricardo Bernal, Carol Vaness, Rolando Villazón, Deborah Voigt, and Dolora Zajick.

The Program annually offers approximately 30 artists the opportunity of studying, coaching, and participating in master classes with established professionals for eleven and twelve weeks during the summer (12 weeks for apprentice coaches and 11 weeks for singers). Participants also perform in two complete opera productions with orchestra and the Schwabacher Summer Concert. The program incorporates intensive training in operatic repertory languages, diction, acting and movement and culminates with the Merola Grand Finale, a concert with full orchestra at the War Memorial Opera House. Merola also enables young coach accompanists and stage directors of exceptional talent to develop skills through the apprentice coach and stage director programs. The Merola Opera Program is a financially independent 501(c)3 organization that operates in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera Center and San Francisco Opera.

The Merola Opera Program is free to its artists and is supported by contributions of individuals, foundations and government entities. The program covers the artists' travel, housing, weekly stipends and all training expenses. In addition, Merola alums may apply for Career Grants up to $12,000 for the five years following their participation in the program.


The program began more than fifty years ago. On August 30, 1953, San Francisco Opera founder and first General Director, Gaetano Merola, died at Stern Grove while conducting a young American singer in "Un bel di" from Madama Butterfly. Maestro Merola wanted to provide young American singers opportunities as little formal training was available in the United States at the time and scant audition opportunities existed on the west coast. This prompted Mrs. Leland Atherton Irish of the Opera Guild of Southern California to ask the new San Francisco Opera General Director, Kurt Herbert Adler, why young western singers had to go to New York to audition.[1]

The Merola Memorial Fund was used to underwrite the San Francisco Opera Debut Auditions, professional auditions for singers from the western United States. The first regional auditions were held in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco. Two hundred thirty-seven young singers applied and two hundred twelve were auditioned. Fifteen singers advanced to the semi-finals, on June 2, 1954. The eight finalists went on to the first San Francisco Opera Debut Auditions which took place at KNBC studios on June 13 and were broadest over KNBC.

All historical content excerpted from.[2]


  1. Schwabacher, James H., "Merola Memories" (taped discussion, 1991, San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum)
  2. Grant, Tracy, Voices Heard Round the World: The Merola Opera Program at Fifty Years. San Francisco: Merola Opera Program, 2007

External links

Coordinates: 37°46′43″N 122°25′16″W / 37.77861°N 122.42111°W / 37.77861; -122.42111

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