Even after living here four years, I’m surprised by my new hometown. So I’d like to introduce you to some people responsible for a few of those surprises — people dedicated to making fine art and performances happen here. This month, I “enter stage left” with Jean Kellogg, executive director of the Merola Opera Company, whose unique mission allows us to see into the future of classically sung music.
When wearing an elegant opening night ball gown, Jean Kellogg looks every inch the statuesque adult, but when she speaks of the singers she brings to work with Merola Opera each summer — “the finest young opera talent” in the country — her eyes light up like a teenager at a rock concert.
Every summer, when the Merola program is in session, audiences have the privilege of watching its chosen Adler Fellows grow, on the stage of the Merola’s productions, and the larger platform of the San Francisco Opera itself, where the fellows join the main company for experience and learning.
Jean Kellogg came to the Merola after the Chautauqua Opera, the Florida Grand Opera and the illustrious Chicago Lyric Opera, where she recruited and trained young singers. She knew about San Francisco’s Merola and “its sterling reputation,” and, she feels “extremely fortunate to have been chosen for this job” as the company’s first executive director.
Evalyn Baron: Jean, why the Merola? And how did its being in San Francisco influence your decision to join the company?
Jean Kellogg: The job ideally matched my skills and experience over the past decades, and its being associated with the San Francisco Opera — in this city — with its culture and the natural beauty of the area, its ice cream on the cake. The Merola is my dream job. I happened to be here and survived the ’89 earthquake and still wanted to live in San Francisco!
EB: How would you state the Merola’s mission?
JK: To provide the finest training for young singers, the best coaches, accompanists, and directors to prep them for professional lives in opera. Throughout a 12-week period, they get bombarded with information and ideas from the best. The program comes with a reality check of what the career path is like. Thrive here, and your chances at an opera career are good.
EB: As executive director, how does that mission inspire you?
JK: The program’s high degree of professional integrity sets a clear precedent for how we function, from the summer productions and training, to the staff and even our wonderful board. We are a specialized niche, and our supporters are avid admirers of what we accomplish. It’s a joy, an honor to be involved.
EB: What are your goals for the Merola Opera program?
JK: Everything we do is for our chosen artists. Goals include providing better short-term housing for them (a challenge in San Francisco), finding a permanent venue for performances, and establishing a fund that will bring in the most sought-after teachers from around the world. Merola is doing considerable community outreach by providing free/low -tickets to students during our summer festival, and opening up dress rehearsals to the community. We started a free opera screening program at the San Francisco Library: “Merola Goes to the Movies,” which included four opera-related films, including Othello with Placido Domingo, and the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera. [The year] 2014 has been very exciting.
EB: And this summer?
JK: Yes! Especially this summer. Our wonderful artists have performed in A Streetcar Named Desire by Andre Previn and Phillip Littell, based on the Williams play, the Schwabacher Summer Concert, and also Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which has its final performance on Aug. 2 at the Everett Auditorium on Church Street. It’s been a fun summer for opera lovers, and great for people new to opera to be introduced to it.
EB: There’s also the Merola Grand Finale on Aug. 16 at 7:30 at the War Memorial Opera House, right? Where you can hear your gifted gang before they head out into the opera world? Arias and scenes from beloved operas?
JK: Yes! And it’s going to be an exciting way to round out this beautiful summer. I invite you [to] come join us!
Well, readers, I hope to be there, not only because I’m a fan of fine singing, but also because after getting to know Jean Kellogg, I don’t think I can resist experiencing what she and her Adler Fellows are up to. Go experience the Merola Opera, and if you see a tall, joyous woman in the lobby glowing with pride, introduce yourself to the wonderful Jean Kellogg.
For more information, visit merola.org, or telephone 415-864-3330.