Merola Opera Program Kicks off 64th Season With ‘What the Heart Desires’ Concert

By Logan Martell

On July 3, 2021, San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program will launch their 64th season with a showcase concert titled “What the Heart Desires.”

Co-curated by tenor Nicholas Phan and mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller, the concert will celebrate diversity in song through compositions by women and people of color. Selections will explore themes such as love, and the yearning for rest, peace, and a better world.

First will be Robert Owens’ “Havana Dreams,” performed by soprano Celeste Morales and pianist Erica Xiaoyan Guo.

Following this will be a set of songs by Henry Thacker Burleigh, and performed by tenors Edward Graves and Tianchi Zhang, and pianist Bryan Banowetz. Selections will draw from cycles such as “Five Songs of Laurence Hope,” and “Passionale.”

Zhang will also perform works by composer/professor/civil rights activist Zenobia Powell Perry, such as “Pastourelle,” and Howard Swanson’s “I Will Lie Down In Autumn.” He will be joined by pianist Tan Lin.

Next will be a trio of works: mezzo Gabrielle Beteag will sing Perry’s “Alien,” Graves will perform “Bright Moonlight” by Chinese-American violinist and composer Chen Yi, and baritone and composer Laureano Quant will perform his composition “Ahora hablo de gaitas.” All three artists will be accompanied by Guo.

Mezzo Gabrielle Barkidjija and pianist Marika Yasuda will perform the final song in Stacy Garrop’s “In Eleanor’s Words,” which sets Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1935-62 syndicated newspaper column to music.

Quant will return to perform Mohammed Fairouz’s “After the Revels,” with Barkidjiji singing Justine F. Chen’s “Whilst Alexis Lay Press’d.” They will both be accompanied by Marika Yasuda.

Also among the selections will be works by Ian Cusson, Florence Price, Errollyn Wallen, Undine Smith Moore, Viet Cuong, and Maria Grever.

The July 3 performance will be filmed and made available for on-demand streaming for Merola members on July 16, and to the public on July 30, 2021.