Baritone Edward Laurenson ’18 and soprano Esther Tonea ’18 will be artists in the San Francisco Opera’s 2019 Merola Opera Program where they will premiere Jake Heggie’s opera If I Were You. Featuring 29 young artists selected from more than 800 applicants worldwide, the Merola Summer Festival provides rigorous operatic training to the brightest young stars on the stage today.
“I am very proud of both Esther and Edward for being selected to join the Merola Opera program,” says César Ulloa, chair of the voice department at SFCM. “They are both incredibly hard working, passionate, and enormously gifted performers who always strive to reach their greatest potential. Being chosen from hundreds of applicants is a huge achievement and a testament to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.”
Based on Julien Green’s Faustian fantasy, Heggie’s opera follows the story of a young man who makes a pact with the devil to be able to transfer his soul into other people’s bodies, and features six major roles in addition to the hero. With a libretto by Gene Scheer, the opera doesn’t skimp on drama with arias, ensembles, and big choral moments.
“I am thrilled to be singing the role of Diana in the world premiere of If I Were You,” says Tonea. “When I was first offered the role, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I know that together with the incredible standard the Merola program has, the resources it provides, and my vocal training with César Ulloa, I will be in good hands.”
For Laurenson, being accepted into the Merola program is a dream come true and a welcome invitation to return to his beloved San Francisco. “Words cannot express how much my time at SFCM meant to me. It was the most wonderful experience of my life so far.”
Having recently graduated from the Conservatory, Laurenson reflects on the importance Ulloa has had on his training as an opera singer.
“César has been a huge inspiration to me over the past two years. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to study under him and have appreciated every moment. Under his guidance, I was able to expand my vocal range and develop an even stronger and more secure vocal technique. His coaching has also positively impacted my confidence and stage presence. Our lessons led to breakthrough after breakthrough. I sometimes felt the need to pinch myself just to check if I was actually lucky enough to be studying with such a talented and inspiring teacher.”
Along with premiering Heggie’s opera, the Merola artists will perform in the Schwabacher Summer Concert featuring scenes from favorites such as Lucia di Lammermoor, Il trovatore, Fault, Die Schweigsame Frau, and La rondine, directed by SFCM faculty member Jose Maria Condemi. The summer festival ends with the Merola Grand Finale—a dazzling showcase of opera’s most exciting arias and ensembles with George Manahan, music director of the American Composers Orchestra, leading the Portland Opera.
In a recent interview with San Francisco Classical Voice, Tonea described feeling more excited with each passing day, and added, “Putting together an opera is thrilling; putting together a world premiere of this caliber is something I will always be grateful for. I’m incredibly thankful to have been given this opportunity.”