Tag Archives: Merola Opera Program

Merola Opera: where future stars get loads of training and TLC

25 Young Artists. 7 Performances. And individual training, training, training galore.

Merola has served as a proving ground for hundreds of artists, including Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Anna Netrebko, Patricia Racette, Rolando Villazón, Deborah Voigt, and Dolora Zajick.

In short, Merola challenges and nurtures the “who’s who” of future opera stars.

Merola provides that bridge young artists need to access the professional opera world. Tenor David Lomeli, currently performing at the Santa Fe Opera Festival, was a Young Artist at Merola in 2008, wholeheartedly agrees:

For me, Merola was the place where the real world started, where I went from general training to specific training. I got to work with Chuck Hudson and Catherine Malfitano in my acting and with my teacher Cesar Ulloa that happened to be in Merola as a master teacher. I also got lots of work from it. They really work on giving you as much exposure as they can. It’s a program about the young artists–they are the principals of the shows–so everyone gets a shot on the spotlight.
–Tenor David Lomeli

Last week Merola artists or “Merolini” as they are dubbed presented four performances of Il barbiere di Siviglia. In ten days, Merola concludes its 54th summer program for young artists with a Grand Finale and Reception.

By all accounts, this season was very successful. Operatoonity interviewed Sheri GreenawaldDirector of the San Francisco Opera, who talked about this year’s program as well as plans for recruiting next year’s Merolini.

Peixin Chen as Basilio in the Friday/Sunday cast of 'Barbiere' |Photo by Kristen Loken

Sheri, how do young artists find out about Merola? (For instance, the artists from China, South Korea, Inner Mongolia, Venezuela, etc.)  We don’t ask singers how they hear about us, so I am guessing a bit when I answer.  We generally advertise our audition in Opera News and Classical Singer, and in addition, I would assume singers must know about YapTracker, where we now have our applications. Word of mouth is often the best way to hear about programs and with Merola’s reputation out there, I would be guess this is a big way that young artists hear about Merola.  Some singers come to us via recommendation, as well.  For example, Peixin Chen, a current Merola bass, was recommended by Francesca Zambello who heard him in China when he sang Zuniga in her production of Carmen in Beixing.

Can you tell readers about the annual process of recruiting/selecting a company? 
Audition announcements go out in August.  When the applications come in, we vet them and determine which singers will get an audition. Mark Morash and I personally audition singers in four cities, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago and New York City. At the end of this process, which generally means we hear and interview 400-500 singers, 30-50 pianists, and about 25 stage directors, we make our selection of the group. It is a huge undertaking but it is the best way, and really the only way, to really experience the vast talent out there and make our choices.

What sets Merola apart from other young artist programs, i.e., do you have more international artists than others; more success stories, greater numbers?  What distinguishes Merola from other summer programs (and I stipulate that we are talking about summer training programs, not permanent Young Artist Programs attached to a particular company) is that the focus is totally on individual training. We may use the singers to provide a small chorus for an opera, but we do our best to limit their involvement to as few a number of rehearsals as possible, so that they can still be having individual coachings every day. My particular focus is to send all the Merolini home in better shape than when they arrived. With the amazing coaches and teachers that we assemble for the summer, that is a fairly easy goal to achieve. We do accept non-US citizens into our program, but I wouldn’t say that is what makes Merola great. It really is about the individual attention that each of them receives.

Suzanne Rigden as Rosina in the Thursday/Sunday cast of 'Barbiere' | Photo by Kristen Loken

A related question, what in your estimation accounts for the program’s growth from a four-week to a twelve-week program? Merola deserves its reputation as one of the world’s most important training programs, not only because of the level of artistic offering but also because of the dedicated and smart board leadership. Merola has grown steadily throughout its 54 year history – in 1958, the program went from 4 weeks to 6 weeks, another bump to seven came in 1962 and as the program entered its second decade, the program expanded to 10 weeks and now, at the age of 54, we are at 11 weeks.  We’ve also always been on the lookout for new opportunities to offer, so the program now includes language, stage movement, career coaching, etc.  We have evolved with the ages, but as you know, slow and steady wins the race and Merola has always been conservative financially and ambitious artistically.

Where do Merola artists go after completing the program?  The path for young singers is as varied as the voices of young singers. Merola is known as the gateway to San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellowship Program, so some of the Merolini do go on to this program. Others who participate in Merola are already committed to the year-round young artist programs at other major companies.   Some of them go back to school for further study, and some of them go directly into the world with professional contracts at companies. Opera is a complex field and successful artists take different paths towards that success.

Can you tell me more about the Merola event that took place on June 25 of this year? Who auditioned for what and who had the privilege of sitting in?  The General Director’s Auditions are basically for David Gockley, perhaps also Nicola Luisotti, and also the San Francisco Opera’s  artistic staff.  This is the first time David Gockley hears them, however they are not auditioning for anything in particular. It is the start of his impression of them as singers and artists.  And since Mr. Gockley is the head of the committee that selects the Adler Fellows, I suppose one could argue that this is the first step toward gaining an Adler Fellowship. For this event, Merola has a select group of patrons who are invited and so the event has a different feel than a normal audition. It’s a nerve wracking time for the singers, but the invited audience learns a lot about a singer’s journey and the artistic staff gets a chance to hear all the Merolini on one night.

Has technology impacted your outreach to artists and/or patrons and audiences?  From the perspective of our artistic process, the broad reach of Internet has enabled us to expand our reach to  singers. Certainly being able to do applications online has sped up that process.  Merola’s excellent marketing team is very savvy at social media. The company has an excellent website, an active Facebook page, and are experienced users of Twitter. Our young singers keep us current with all the tools of social media, and they are excellent partners to the Merola organization going forward.

What preparations have already begun for next year’s company?   In the midst of this season, we do have to think about next year. We are already preparing our audition materials to be sent to schools and institutions, and we have already selected audition dates and have our audition venues all lined up. We hit the  audition trail in October, once the applications will have been vetted, beginning in September.

Mark Diamond as Figaro in the Friday & Sunday cast of 'Barbiere' | Photo by Kristen Loken

Anything you’d like to add?  Merola is possible not only because of the work that we do at the Opera Center, but also because of their extremely dedicated membership.  With more than 800 individual members, many of whom are fanatic opera lovers, Merola is able to tap into the community for funding, audience participation, and support.  Merola members contribute financially, but also get very involved – sponsoring the singers, housing the singers, hosting post-event parties, bringing lunch for singers at break time, etc.  There are many famous singers whose Merola sponsors still attend performances around the world and stay in close touch.  It is truly a unique program  — wonderful for both the singers and the audiences.

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There’s lots more information and photos at the Merola Opera website. Visit http://merola.org. You can also follow them on Twitter @merolaopera and like them on their nifty Facebook page.

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chattin’ up David Lomelí: Mexican tenor, toast of NYC!

Tenor David Lomeli

He’s an Operalia winner. He’s a recent graduate of San Francisco Opera‘s prestigious Adler Fellows program for the most advanced young singers.

As Nemorino in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love presented by New York City Opera this past spring, tenor David Lomelí was the rising star New York critics raved about and audiences gushed over:

“Mr. Lomelí captured the opera’s potent combination of hilarity and pathos. He certainly deserved all the applause and bravos. He was, in a word, delightful.
–The New York Times (full review here)

After David sang “Una Furtiva Lagrima” on opening night (his first Elixir ever, by the way), the audience applauded for a solid minute and a half. “The choristers backstage timed it,” David said in a recent phone interview.

I saw David sing the role for New York City Opera. In my review for Backtrack, I cited his second-act aria as one the most magical moments I’d experienced as an operagoer, the kind we all pray to be in the audience for and are fortunate to witness.

Without equivocation, David Lomelí was la estrella de Nueva York. As The New York Observer said in their feature “Who Matters Now,” David Lomelí brings “Latin ardor to the stage.”

In case you didn’t know, his first name David (which he pronounces daVEED) means beloved. How fitting! This is one performer who is simply adored — whenever he sings, wherever he goes.

It seems that this love fest for David Lomelí began 29 years ago when he was born in Mexico City into a musically talented family. As a small child, he had blonde hair and pink skin, and the thirteen women he grew up with fussed over him to no end because of his fair coloring. And it seems as though all the fussing over David Lomelí has never stopped. 

(Or maybe it’s only just begun.)

Since winning Plácido Domingo’s Operalia in 2006, to this day Maestro Domingo mentors him, regarding David not only as a protege but also embracing him like family. David has been generously encouraged by many big names in opera including Luciano Pavarotti who once told David that being a next generation opera star would be much harder than the challenges he himself faced because of the acting and staging demands opera performance requires these days. He considers another very famous Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón his generational idol.

David is currently playing Rodolfo in 'La Bohème' at Santa Fe Opera / photo by Ken Howard

David Lomelí is talented and  hard-working, putting everything he has (mind, body, soul) into each of his performances. He is uber-friendly, utterly charming, and yet very down-to-earth, having agreed to be profiled on Operatoonity though he and I had never met prior to this interview.

His is fluent in English — he attended a British school in Mexico — and so his answers are his own. (No translation required).

Bienvenido, David! Since your performance in ‘Elixir’ so gladdened my heart (porque cantando se alegran, los corazones), it is such a pleasure to have this chance to talk with you.

Can you tell me a little about your childhood (besides being a native of Mexico City)–how you grew up and how it affected your decision to sing opera?
Well, in my family there was always music.  My grandmother and my mother were singers — my mom a mezzo and grandma a soprano. I was raised by them my first years. My dad plays the guitar. You can tell by the quantity and quality of the Mexican tenors, that we are surrounded my music all the time — between salsa, mariachi, corrido, cumbia and boleros we always singing. The opera path opened in college where I finished an engineer career in computer systems. The beautiful way of Mexicans to do things happened in college.

My university had a theater of 2,500 seats with  a concert series featuring artists like Pavarotti, Ramon Vargas and Gustavo Dudamel coming every year, a musical theater company that made many Spanish world premieres of Broadway shows and a full orchestra. But there was no music degree offered, so we did operas and musical with whatever student of other degrees wanted to do it as an extra credit. The opera company of the university offered to pay my tuition as an engineer if I dedicated my extra time to sing with them and that’s how it happened. They sent me to Barcelona and Milan to study my degree in evening with  musical training in the mornings. I learned a lot by doing performances, graduating with more than 300 performances in the school theater productions. It was a great period of my life.

David won Operalia in 2006, a competition open to all voice categories for singers ages 18 to 30 years who are ready to for the world’s great opera stages.

You were invited to compete in Operalia in 2006, representing the United States (according to the website). How did that come about?
You are right – the site says that I represented the US.  But, I am not sure why, because  when I won they said, “David Lomeli, tenor from MEXICO.”   I do owe a lot to my US  training and support, but my green Mexican passport does not lie.  Ha ha ha!  I am still proud to be Mexican! (The citation has since been corrected to reflect his real country of origin.)

What are your memories of that experience—being named a finalist and then winning 1st prize and zarzuela?
It was a dream come true. It was my first real competition, and  my career was starting so fast. In February 2006, I just was sneaked up by my teacher Cesar Ulloa for an audition with Plácido Domingo. By August of 2006 I had a legal working visa and I had my first musical rehearsal ever! And it was next to Ferruccio Furlanetto, Salvatore Licitra, Eric Halverson, the dear Dolora Zajick (she gave me multiple suggestions on voice and career) — all conducted my maestro James Conlon. It was wild! I was surrounded by new friends and idols like Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko and then — kaboom! Two months later I won Operalia. I really appreciate so much the judges that trusted me that I could represent the label of an Operalia winner, when I think they saw a green raw potential and they offered the help needed to really jump start my career.

I remember clearly the system —  I was last in the operatic round and also last in the zarzuela one. I didn’t have any rehearsal with the orchestra and I had never sang those pieces with orchestra ever. “O souverain” from Massenet’s Le Cid was my operatic piece, and it was a different version!!! And the zarzuela piece was very complicated. Thank God  Maestro Domingo was there to take care of me on the pit. An angel intervened that day for sure.  I was so nervous.

How has Operalia impacted your career since winning the contest?
It gives you a label that never goes away.  It is like being number one in a tennis rank or golf list.  It is an accomplishment that gives certain validation to your work.  And it is a very different kind of competition. Most of the competitions are judged by singers now retired or in their way to retirement. This is a competition judged by impresarios and general managers. Also there are more than 40 other scouts for management, PR and companies there. If you score high with the people that hire, then I think is a very good sign of your possible potential. Another positive difference  is that this is a world competition — you have to compete against the Latin tenors, the Russian beauties, the Korean baritones, the American superlatively trained musicians.

I think there are very few in the world that give so much money in prizes and accept singers from over the world. I was never a viable candidate because of my immigration status to compete in most of the famous competitions held at the US, so when I won this competition, certainly my career got a boost. Most importantly, it brought together my team.

Operalia and the L.A Opera Young Artist Program brought to my life my coach Anthony Manoli and my guru and agent Matthew Epstein. These men,  together with my teacher, have helped me shape every aspect of my singing nowadays. They are constantly pushing for vocal excellence, correct preparation of the roles, appropriate rest time, the suggestion of  having a little project every performance to improve something each time, and they ask me to retain a sense of every performance being better than the last. Also, of course, the help find me a lot of singing debuts. Ha ha!

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge has been to understand that I was not yet ready. When I won Operalia, I was suddenly around the globe in operatic publications and magazines. I was mentioned in lists next to Ana María Martínez, Rolando Villazón, or Joseph Calleja. But I was really only an engineer. I needed high class training and on the speed of lightning. Thank God, Maestro Domingo and their family, the guys at CAMI (Columbia Artists Management, Inc.), and the people at the Merola Opera Program and Adler Fellowship Program at San Francisco Opera were there to calm me down. I needed help  to understand that this career is not of speed but of continuous improvement.

David as Nemorino in 'Elixir' at New York City Opera / photo (c) Carol Rosegg.

In truth, the greatest thrill of my career so far was the three previous bars to start “Una furtiva lagrima” on stage at NYCO for my premiere. I sensed it was the make-it-or-break-it moment for me. It was just a phenomenal rush of adrenaline and the moment that every tenor dreams about.  When I finished the aria,  it was a very big moment for me.  It made up  for years of sacrifice, lonely times when you lose yourself and then later find you in a different corner of a different city, wearing the same clothes, but speaking another language and a different composer.  It justified so many moments of tears. I was laughing and crying at the same time and I couldn’t stop for a long time after. It was at that moment that I had the sense of my OWN satisfaction with my own voice.

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Role? Venue?
I love Donizetti, and I am dying to sing more of it. Favorite operas:  Dom Sébastien, La Fille du Regiment. Favorite role: Duca d’alba. It is like Donizetti wrote for voices like mine. I adore his lines and the extension. My personality is a combination of Nemorino, Rodolfo, and Werther. So each three roles are a treat for my soul when I have the opportunity to voice them.

You got rave reviews in all the NY press after your debut as Nemorino for NYC Opera. How does it feel to know NYC is dying to have you back to sing? Are you coming back–soon (fingers crossed)?
As you know, the opera world is very booked in advance but there have been talks for me to come back.  It’s not yet possible for me to schedule a return, but I hope so in the future.

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
No one really understands how passionate I am about soccer. I have traveled the world for the experience of soccer in a stadium. I am a huge supporter of Manchester United and also my home team Barcelona. Just yesterday my country became champion of the world in the under 17 cup hosted in my birthplace, Mexico City.  To see more than 100,000  voices singing “Cielito Lindo” brought tears to my eyes so far away.

Where can we see you in 2011-12?
I start my season with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto doing the Duke in Rigoletto, then I go to Germany to sing Edgardo in Lucia at Deutsche Oper Berlin, and again the Duke in Karlsruhe with my dear Stefania Dovhan as Gilda.  I am looking forward to my debut  in Houston Grand Opera with Maestro Patrick Summers as Alfredo  in La Traviata and also to my first major solo recital to be held in Birmingham, Alabama.  My season concludes with Bohème in the magnificent summer festival at Glyndebourne.

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David  is performing at Santa Fe Opera Festival through August 26, and is excited about Santa Fe’s upcoming Press Week (early August). He has a new website soon to launch, designed by the talented Catherine Pisaroni, who has created outstanding websites for many of today’s most renowned opera stars. You can also follow him on Twitter @davidlomelink, where he Tweets, con gusto, in Spanish and English.



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