About Merola

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The future of opera begins today

Each summer, San Francisco becomes a place where dreams come true for the young artists in the Merola Opera Program. Out of hundreds of young hopefuls who audition, approximately 23 singers, five apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director are chosen to participate in the Program. Merola is dedicated to seeking out the finest young opera talent and helping them develop into professional artists of the highest caliber.

The Merola Opera Program offers training in:

  • Musical style and interpretation
  • Role preparation
  • Movement and acting
  • Accompaniment and conducting
  • Languages and diction
  • Breath work

Merola Admission

Gaetano MerolaAdmission to Merola is based on talent rather than financial ability; Merola pays all tuition, housing and travel expenses for each of its participants and also grants them a living stipend during their intensive training in San Francisco.

A financially independent organization which operates in close collaboration with San Francisco Opera Center and San Francisco Opera, the Merola Opera Program was founded in 1957 and named for San Francisco Opera’s first general director, Gaetano Merola. Over the course of more than half a century, Merola has nurtured such talents as Sylvia McNair, Anna Netrebko, Patricia Racette, Ruth Ann Swenson, Joyce DiDonato, Carol Vaness, Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Dolora Zajick, Brian Asawa, Gary Lakes, Kurt Streit, Jess Thomas, Rolando Villazón, Thomas Hampson, Patrick Summers and numerous other opera luminaries. 

Lori Guilbeau in a master class with Robin Guarino in Herbst Theatre, 2009Beyond imparting the thousand and one skills required by this most demanding of disciplines, Merola illuminates attributes often overlooked at conservatories. The Program offers a powerful combination of performance opportunities and one-on-one coaching.

Master Classes

In addition to the excellent mentors resident at San Francisco Opera, master classes have been taught by illustrious singers, directors, conductors and coaches, including: Régine Crespin, Jane Eaglen, Hans Hotter, Lotfi Mansouri, Leontyne Price, Donald Runnicles, Graziella Sciutti, Elisabeth Söderström, Patrick Summers, Dame Joan Sutherland and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Merola alumni such as Carol Vaness, Deborah Voigt and Dolora Zajick. The Program has also been blessed by remarkable master teachers such as Steven Blier, Warren Jones and Martin Katz, who return year after year to pass on their invaluable wisdom.

Performance Opportunities

Throughout its life, the Program has abounded with performance opportunities for the participants. Currently it includes fully staged operas with orchestra, a scenes concert and the Merola Grand Finale, which showcases all the participants in a gala concert on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House. These experiences in front of a live audience put into practice the depth and richness of the lessons learned over the summer.

After the Summer

Ethel Evans instructs Janet Williams in 1987 acting class.All graduates are eligible for Career Grants (up to $6,000 in a given year and up to $12,000 total) for five years after their Merola summer. These grants, for everything from audition travel to headshots to vocal coaching, help the young artists make the transition to the professional opera world. Some students participate in the Program for a second summer and a select few go on to become Adler Fellows with the San Francisco Opera. Merola artists graduate from the program with a clearer idea of what their next steps will be musically, artistically and technically as they pursue their careers in opera.


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