The Merola Opera Program is celebrating its 60th anniversary season of helping to launch the careers of young performers, and tomorrow night and Saturday afternoon they’ll present Rossini’s Cenerentola at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Merola Artistic Director Sheri Greenawald says the production (directed by Chuck Hudson) is “full of jokes, one after the other.”

One of the great legacies of the Merola program is just how many alums have become stars after going through it. And Sheri Greenwald says this particular opera has been a good vehicle for stardom. “20 Years ago, we debuted Miss Joyce DiDonato in the title role, and ten years ago we premiered Miss Daniela Mack in the role. Of course, Joyce is world-renowned, And Daniella is featured in Opera News this month, I believe.” This year, the role is sung by Samantha Hankey. “One of the winners at the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s big competition in the spring,” Greenawald says. “So she’s a winner, and we think this is going to be another case of Merola being a part of the debut of a career that goes on to great stardom.” It’s traditionally been a springboard for the select singers and coaches who have taken part. “A lot of the kids that come to Merola, which is a summer program, will be a part either of the San Francisco Opera’s program, the Adler Fellowships, or many are already ready to go off to the Houston Grand Opera Studio. Usually these kids end up in big programs, in big houses.” And even though they come in as the cream of the crop of young talent, Greenwald says the experience can only strengthen their skills. “They encounter so many great coaches and teachers and artists… that you can’t help but have your mind expanded somehow. You just can’t be in a room with people like Warren Jones, or Martin Katz, or Kevin Murphy. You can’t be in a room with them for an hour, working on music and not be inspired and learn something.”