SFCM Graduates Named to Adler Fellowship Program

Natalie Image ’17 (soprano) and Christian Pursell ’15 (bass-baritone)

SFCM’s own Natalie Image ’17 (soprano) and Christian Pursell ’15 (bass-baritone) were recently named 2018 Adler Fellows at the San Francisco Opera. The two SFCM alumni will join a class of eleven in the multi-year residency which offers advanced young artists intensive training and professional seminars, as well as a wide range of performance opportunities.

Image, who is continuing her studies at SFCM by taking on a postgraduate diploma, says the fellowship “is an opportunity to work in a professional setting and be treated like a professional, but still have an environment of learning and education.” She plans on relishing the year-long residency as a chance to refine her craft, uninterrupted, with the world-class Adler faculty. “I am looking forward to diving into this world that I have already worked so hard to prepare myself for!”

Image was born for the stage and can’t imagine doing anything else. As a child, she heard the phrase “sing like nobody is listening” and asked her mother, “what would be the point?” Today, she is moved and inspired by the stories she gets to share onstage. “We aspire to transport the audience to another world for the evening, to let their worries fade away, if only for a few hours.” As an Adler Fellow, she’ll get to do just that.

César Ulloa, the Frederica von Stade Distinguished Chair in Voice at SFCM, notes that the Adler Fellowship program is one of the world’s most prestigious opera programs for advanced training. Considering the success of renowned alumni such as Deborah Voigt and Dolora Zajick, the program can be a stepping stone into an international career. “I am always very proud when I have the opportunity to travel to see former fellows perform in major opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, always remembering when they first came to the Merola program,” says Ulloa. (Fellows must first take part in the Merola Opera Program over the summer. A select few are then chosen as Adler Fellows.)

“Having worked in several young artist programs over the past 22 years, I truly believe the Adler Fellowship is one the most important,” comments Ulloa. “Like no other young artist program, a very high percentage of their alumni go on to have major careers and perform in major opera houses around the world.” 

Soprano Amina Edris, an outgoing 2017 Adler Fellow and also an SFCM alumna who graduated in 2015, looks back on an exciting year and on her passion for music. “I have a love affair with French opera,” which she says made her role as Manon in Massenet’s eponymously titled opera an especially meaningful achievement during her fellowship.

Along with incredible performance opportunities, Edris says the program helped show her what it takes to be successful in the opera world. She notes that the rigorous schedule forces singers to balance days filled to the brim with language lessons, coachings, rehearsals, and performances. “You simply have to teach yourself how to manage everything simultaneously.” Daunting as it may sound, she notes, “it sets you up perfectly for what life is like in the real world.”

With the 2018 fellows poised to begin the program in January, Edris, now a veteran, offers advice to the incoming class: “Enjoy your time, make use of every opportunity that comes your way, and always give your heart and soul every time you are given an opportunity to be on the main stage.”

For opera lovers in the Bay Area and beyond, Natalie Image, Christian Pursell, and Amina Edris are just a few of the SFCM alumni to keep an eye on as they make waves in the music world.


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