Friday, June 19, 2009
Meet The Merolini
The San Francisco Opera's annual twelve-week summer camp for aspiring opera professionals is called the Merola Opera Program and it's over fifty years old. On Tuesday evening at the Green Room in the Veterans Building, there was a meet-and-greet party for Merola donors and this year's crop of artists.
The highly competitive program is free for the artists and includes a small stipend, transportation and housing in various donors' homes. One of the few singers who already lives in the Bay Area is Eleazar Rodriguez (above) who has already starred in the 2007 world premiere of Lou Harrison's "Young Caesar" at Yerba Buena Center (click here for my account from that performance).
The format of the evening was a series of interviews with the young artists, including the Tennessee soprano Susannah Biller above.
The interrogators of bass Evan Boyer (above) and all the others were San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald, along with Merola chairman Jayne Davis and president Patrick Wilken.
The only problem was that there were 29 young Merola artists and the evening promised to last forever. Since the order of interviews was alphabetical, by the time they had gotten to New York tenor Brian Jagde (above), people were starting to wonder if this was going to be the "Gotterdamerung" of get acquainted evenings.
The young artists held up well, though, and managed to come up with varied and funny anecdotes all night. One of the recurring themes was the large contingent of "Midwest Mafia Merolini" centering in Iowa, such as contralto Suzanne Hendrix above...
...and Minnesota soprano Sara Gartland above, who is singing in this year's Merola production of Mascagni's "L'Amico Fritz" at the Cowell Theatre in late July.
Not all the Merola artists are singers. There are a few slots for apprentice "coaches/accompanists" and one slot for the young Mexican director Fernando Parra Borti (above), who is smart as a whip.
In a thick, funny accent, apprentice coach Tamara Sanikidze from Tbilisi, Georgia (above) told the most candidly hilarious story about her trip to the White House for a performance during the Clinton administration. Wearing her new Jimmy Choo shoes, she managed to fall down a marble staircase on her rump, fracturing her tailbone in six places and then endured a tour by Bill Clinton through the Oval Office while she grimaced in pain. "I thought to myself, you're the most powerful man in the world, why can't you cut your ear hairs?"
South Carolina baritone John Chest (above) is on his way to an apprentice program in Munich, Germany after this summer and if they don't cast him as Britten's "Billy Budd," then somebody's not paying attention.