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Merola Launches Season With WHAT THE HEART DESIRES Celebrating Works By Women & People Of Color

Celebrating diversity in song, this recital features compositions by women and people of color, and is co-curated by tenor Nicholas Phan and mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller.

Merola Launches Season With WHAT THE HEART DESIRES Celebrating Works By Women & People Of Color

San Francisco's acclaimed Merola Opera Program, one of the most prestigious and selective opera training programs in the world, commences its 64th season with a showcase of some of the program's rising stars titled What the Heart Desires.

Celebrating diversity in song, this recital features compositions by women and people of color, and is co-curated by tenor Nicholas Phan and mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller (Merola '05). In a sweeping array of breathtaking works that explore love and longing, What the Heart Desires includes selections that express romantic desire, as well as the yearning for home, for rest, for peace, and for a better world.

What the Heart Desires will be performed 2:00pm (PDT), Saturday, July 3 for a limited audience of Merola donors, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall (50 Oak St, San Francisco). The filmed performance will become available on-demand for Merola members on July 16, and to the public on July 30. For more information, visit

What the Heart Desires opens with a performance of African American composer Robert Owens' Havana Dreams, featuring Merola artists Celeste Morales (Soprano) and Erica Xiaoyan Guo (Pianist). This vivid work, described by Owens as "rough and raucous," launches with a flamenco-inspired frenzied desperation that segues to a lilting, seductive, and sensual waltz of yearning for beautiful things - a woman's face, a lace fan, a rose.

Passion is represented by a set of songs by Henry Thacker Burleigh, performed by Edward Graves (Tenor), Tianchi Zhang (Tenor), and Bryan Banowetz (Piano). Burleigh is the late 19th century musician who introduced Czech composer Antonin Dvořák to African American spirituals during his sojourn in the United States, leading Dvořák to believe that the pathway to an American style of music lay through the music of African Americans. Burleigh went on to play a pivotal role in the development of American art song, becoming America's first prominent Black composer with more than 200 published works. Selections to be performed include Tide; Among the Fuchsias from Five Songs of Laurence Hope; and Her Eyes, Twin Pools and Your Lips are Wine,from his Passionale song cycle.

Tianchi Zhang (Tenor) will join Yang Lin (Piano) for works by American composer/professor/civil rights activist Zenobia Powell Perry, as well as pieces by Howard Swanson, who is known for his setting of texts by Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Zhang and Lin will perform Swanson's I Will Lie Down in Autumn and Perry's Pastourelle, highlighting peace and rest.

A trio of works will focus on the longing for home and a beloved place. Gabrielle Beteag (Mezzo-soprano) and Erica Xiaoyan Guo (Piano) will perform Zenobia Powell Perry's Alien. Edward Graves (Tenor) will join with Guo to present Bright Moonlight by Chinese American violinist and composer Chen Yi, the first woman to receive a Master of Arts in Music Composition from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Laureano Quant (Baritone), who is also a composer, will perform his own composition, Ahora hablo de gaitas, with pianist Guo.

The essence of Eleanor Roosevelt is captured in a selection from American composer Stacy Garrop's In Eleanor's Words, a song cycle of settings from Roosevelt's 1935-1962 syndicated newspaper column, My Day. Gabrielle Barkidjija (Mezzo-soprano) and Marika Yasuda (Piano) will perform the final song of the cycle, What Can One Woman Do?, in which Roosevelt ruminates on the difference an individual can make towards creating a more peaceful world.

Lust is the theme of works by two modern American composers: Mohammed Fairouz, declared "one of the most talented composers of his generation" by the BBC, and Justine F. Chen, an award-winning composer who has been commissioned by the New York City Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, New York Festival of Song, and the Washington Ballet. Sensual celebrations of being human and alive are depicted in Fairouz's After the Revels, to be performed by Laureano Quant (Baritone). Chen's Whilst Alexis Lay Press'd, set to Dryden's ribald poem that slyly recounts the pleasures of love, will be performed by Gabrielle Barkidjija (Mezzo-soprano). Marika Yasuda (Piano) joins both artists to perform the selections.

Also on the program are works of yearning by Métis composer Ian Cusson; Florence Price, the first African-American woman to have a composition performed by a major orchestra; Robert Owens; and Belize-born British composer Errollyn Wallen, CBE, whose many commissions include works for the Royal Opera House, Welsh National Opera, and the BBC Proms, where she was the first Black woman composer to have her work featured in performance in the history of the prestigious summer festival since its founding in 1895. Performed by Celeste Morales (Soprano), Gabrielle Beteag (Mezzo-soprano), Edward Graves (Tenor), and Shiyu Tan (Piano), selections from these composers include Cusson's Where There's a Wall, a setting of a poem by Japanese Canadian poet Joy Kogawa; Price's Sympathy, a setting of Paul Laurence Dunbar's seminal poem that inspired the title of Maya Angelou's autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; Wallen's Daedalus, a retelling of the tragic story of Daedalus and his son Icarus; and Heart, Owens' musical treatment of Langston Hughes' depiction of the commedia dell'arte character Pierrot displaying his heart on the town wall, only to have it be ignored.

The program rounds out with a celebration of love in works by Undine Smith Moore, called "the Dean of Black Women Composers"; California-born, multi-award-winning composer Viet Cuong; and María Grever, who became the first female Mexican composer to achieve international fame, with an early 20th century career that included 1,000 songs that gained popularity around the world. Celeste Morales (Soprano), Edward Graves (Tenor), Laureano Quant (Baritone), and Anna Smigelskaya (Piano) will perform Moore's Lyric for Truelove and I Want to Die While You Love Me, Viet Cuong's O Do Not Love Too Long, and María Grever's first international hit Júrame ("Promise Me"), a passionate cry from a lover begging not to be forgotten.

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