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San Francisco Opera Center Announces 2019 Adler Fellows

San Francisco Opera Center Announces 2019 Adler Fellows San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald today announced the 12 recipients of the 2019 Adler Fellowship. Selected from participants of the Merola Opera Program, the ten singers and two pianist/apprentice coaches begin their fellowships in January 2019. The multi-year performance-oriented residency offers advanced young artists intensive individual training, coaching and professional seminars, as well as a wide range of performance opportunities. Since its inception in 1977, the prestigious fellowship has nurtured the development of more than 180 young artists, introducing many budding stars to the international opera stage and launching active careers throughout the world as performers, production artists, arts professionals and educators.

The singers selected as 2019 Adler Fellows are sopranos Mary Evelyn Hangley (Long Beach, NY) and Natalie Image (Tsawwassen, Canada); mezzo-sopranos Ashley Dixon (Peachtree City, GA) and Simone McIntosh (Vancouver, Canada); countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen (Brooklyn, NY); tenors Zhengyi Bai (Linyi, China), Christopher Colmenero (Burlington, VT) and Christopher Oglesby (Woodstock, GA); baritone SeokJong Baek (Jeon-Ju, South Korea); and bass-baritone Christian Pursell (Santa Cruz, CA). Mary Evelyn Hangley, Simone McIntosh, Zhengyi Bai, Christopher Colmenero, Christopher Oglesby and SeokJong Baek are incoming first-year Adler Fellows. Natalie Image, Ashley Dixon, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen and Christian Pursell continue in the program as second-year fellows.

The pianists selected for Apprentice Coach Fellowships are first-year fellow Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad (Kyiv, Ukraine) and returning second-year Adler César Cañón (Bogotá, Colombia). The Adler Fellow apprentice coaches work closely with Mark Morash, Director of Musical Studies of the Opera Center, and John Churchwell, Head of Music Staff at San Francisco Opera. The coaches participate in the musical activities of both San Francisco Opera and the Opera Center and are involved in all aspects of the Adler Fellows' training by acting as pianists for master classes, working with master coaches and preparing the Adler Fellows for concerts and mainstage roles.

Sheri Greenawald, now in her 16th year as director of San Francisco Opera Center, reflected on the start of the new season: "Every January, it's always very exciting to welcome a New Group of singers and pianists to the Adler program. And with three tenors on the roster this year, it will surely be an exciting ride! I look forward to watching all of them navigate the language, acting, dance and stage combat classes, and then working to synthesize it all for their main stage assignments later in the season. Young artist programs are the finishing schools for singers and pianists. They've learned how to put the 'soufflé' together, and now it has to bake-may they all rise to the heavens!"

Adler Fellows gain valuable professional experience by participating in roles of increasing importance in San Francisco Opera's repertory season at the War Memorial Opera House, and via a variety of performance opportunities throughout their fellowship. Upcoming engagements for the 2019 Adler Fellows include the Eureka Chamber Music Festival on January 25 in Eureka, CA and Brava! Opera Theatre on January 27 in Portland, OR. Select Adler Fellows will also be featured in the 2019 Schwabacher Recital Series (February & April 2019), and all take the stage for the annual The Future Is Now concert in December.

The graduating 2018 Adler Fellows are soprano Sarah Cambidge, tenors Amitai Pati and Kyle van Schoonhoven, baritone Andrew Manea, pianist/apprentice coach John Elam and director Aria Umezawa. The 2018 Adler Fellows' season culminates with the annual showcase concert, The Future Is Now, on Saturday, December 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Herbst Theatre. Aria Umezawa stages this program of arias and operatic scenes featuring the 2018 class of Adler Fellows accompanied by the San Francisco Opera Orchestra led by American conductor Christopher Franklin, who made his Company debut last season with Turandot. For tickets and more information, visit


First-Year Adler Fellows:

Soprano Mary Evelyn Hangley has been featured on the stages of the Glimmerglass Festival and Minnesota Opera. Most recently, she performed the role of Anna Sørensen in Kevin Puts' Pulitzer Prize-winning Silent Night at Glimmerglass Festival. In concert, she has sung Mendelssohn's Elijah, Mozart's Mass in C minor, Saint-Saëns' Christmas Oratorio and Schubert's Mass in C major, and in spring 2019 she will be the soprano soloist in the Verdi Requiem at SUNY Fredonia. Hangley has participated in many of the country's leading young artist programs, including the Merola Opera Program, Glimmerglass Festival and Minnesota Opera. As a participant of Merola Opera Program (2016), she was praised by Opera News for singing "with considerable allure" when taking over for an ill colleague mid-performance in Conrad Susa's Transformations. During her two years as a Resident Artist with Minnesota Opera, Hangley sang leading roles for the company, including Musetta in La Bohème, Woglinde in Das Rheingold, and Contessa Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro.

Vancouver-born mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh, a 2018 Merola Opera Program participant, has been named winner of competitions including the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Competition 2016, McGill Wirth Vocal Prize 2016, Ottawa Choral Society New Discoveries Competition 2017, and she was dubbed one of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "30 Hottest Classical Musicians Under 30" in 2017. Her credits include Tamiri in Il re pastore (Merola Opera Program); the Page in Rigoletto (Canadian Opera Company); Ruggiero in Alcina, Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus, Judith in Bluebeard's Castle, Meg in Little Women and Waitress in Speed Dating Tonight! (Opera McGill); Donna in Crush (world premiere at The Banff Centre); Béatrice in Béatrice et Bénédict (MYopera); the Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen and Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann (University of British Columbia Opera); Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro (Burnaby Lyric Opera); and Cis in Albert Herring (Vancouver Opera). This season, as an Ensemble Studio member at the Canadian Opera Company, she appears as the Confidante in Elektra and Tisbe in WOW Factor: A Cinderella Story (Opera for Young Audiences). She will also sing the title role of La Cenerentola at Vancouver Opera this spring.

Tenor Zhengyi Bai was a participant of the 2018 Merola Opera Program, where he appeared as Alessandro in Il re pastore. Bai has also performed Bénédict (Béatrice et Bénédict), Oronte (Alcina), Nemorino (L'Elisir d'Amore), Count Almaviva (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) and Mr. Owen (Postcard from Morocco). In 2017, Bai won the Los Angeles District of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Born in the Shandong province of China, Bai entered college as a piano major student. But it was not until his junior year in college that he discovered his true instrument-his voice. With a solid musical foundation of piano study, Bai flourished in his voice studies, completing his bachelor and master's degrees in Shandong, China and obtaining his graduate certificate from the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music.

As a member of the 2018 Merola Opera Program, tenor Christopher Colmenero was featured as Luigi in Puccini's Il Tabarro for the Schwabacher Summer Concert and sang a scene as the title role of Verdi's Don Carlo for the Merola Grand Finale concert. He recently returned to Purchase College as a guest artist to sing Judge Danforth in the Purchase Opera spring production of The Crucible. Colmenero was a resident artist with Minnesota Opera during the 2016-17 season, where he performed Benvolio in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette and Froh in Wagner's Das Rheingold. He was a 3rd place winner in the 2017 Midwestern Regional Finals and a 2016 Eastern District Finals winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Other awards include the Giulio Gari Foundation, Gerda Lissner Foundation and the 2014 Richard F. Gold Career Grant. Colmenero holds an Artist Diploma in Voice/Opera from the Mannes College of Music and Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees in Voice/Opera from the Purchase College Conservatory of Music.

Tenor Christopher Oglesby was most recently a Resident Artist at Utah Opera where he sang Tybalt in Romeo et Juliette and was the tenor soloist for Handel's Messiah with the Utah Symphony. As a participant of the 2018 Merola Opera Program, he debuted as Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. As an education artist at the Dallas Opera, he appeared in Mozart's Bastien and Bastienne and in Davies' The Three Little Pigs. An active soloist and recitalist, Oglesby has performed with the Utah Symphony, Abilene Philharmonic, Dallas Puccini Society and Opera Diversitá. Other recent credits include Tamino in Die Zauberflöte; Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni; and Box in Cox and Box with the Amalfi Coast Festival, University of North Texas and Opera in Concert. He holds Bachelor of Music degrees in Vocal Performance, Choral Education and Band Education from Lee University and a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of North Texas.

South Korean baritone SeokJong Baek was a participant of the 2018 Merola Opera Program, where he was featured in the Schwabacher Summer Concert. Currently a resident artist of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, he sings the role of Yamadori (Madama Butterfly) with that company in November. Other credits include La Traviata (Germont) with Aspen Music Festival, La Bohéme (Marcello, cover) with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance Program and Das Land des Lächelns (Tschang) and Le Roi l'a dit (Gautru) with Manhattan School of Music. His many awards received in 2018 include 1st place in the Alan M. and Joan Taub Ades Vocal competition, 3rd place at the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition, a grant from the Giulio Gari competition and special prize at the Sonora International Opera Competition Francisco Araiza in Mexico. Baek is a recipient of the Presser Foundation and Mae Zenke Orvis Scholarship in Opera Studies, and earned his bachelor and master's degrees from the Manhattan School of Music.

Ukraine native Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad participated in the 2018 Merola Opera Program and is an active pianist and collaborator on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Before graduating with honors from the Special Music School in Kyiv, she won top prizes at various international piano and chamber music competitions, including the Prokofiev International Competition for Young Pianists (Donetsk, Ukraine), the International Competition for Young Pianists (Belgrade, Serbia), and the International Chamber Ensemble Competition (St. Petersburg, Russia). She has performed in master classes with artists such as Leon Fleisher, Jerome Lowenthal, Vadim Rudenko, José Feghali, Gabriela Montero, Margo Garrett, Julius Drake and Martin Frost. Barrad also enjoys a vibrant collaborative career spanning opera, choral music, vocal recitals and chamber music. She graduated with her master's degree in Collaborative Piano from the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and is now working on her Ph. D. in Piano Performance.

Second-Year Adler Fellows:

As a Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finalist, soprano Natalie Image was praised by the New York Times for her "pristine high notes" and by Operawire for her "crystalline tone [which] swirled through the house." In February 2019, she will return to the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra (SFCO) as Galatea in Handel's Acis and Galatea. Other appearances this year included Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 with the SFCO, an appearance as part of the Schwabacher Recital Series and touring Northern California and Oregon with the Adler Fellows. Past highlights include the title role in the North American premiere of Alma Deutscher's Cinderella with Opera San Jose, Clorinda in Rossini's La Cenerentola with the Merola Opera Program (2017), Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra, Handel's Messiah with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, Johanna in Sweeney Todd (Opera on the Avalon) and Mrs. De Rocher in Dead Man Walking (Opera NUOVA). Image received her master's degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

A 2018 Grand Finals winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon will make her San Francisco Opera main stage debut this fall in Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's It's a Wonderful Life as an Angel First Class. As a participant of the 2017 Merola Opera Program, she sang the role of Popova in William Walton's The Bear and ended her summer season on the War Memorial Opera House stage singing an aria from Massenet's Cendrillon. Her inaugural summer at the Merola Opera Program had her singing La Ciesca in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and Mrs. Nolan in Menotti's The Medium. Dixon's 2016-17 season included her debut with Michigan Opera Theatre in Copland's The Tender Land as Mrs. Splinters. In concert, she has appeared on the Hill Auditorium stage as mezzo-soprano soloist in Mozart's Requiem and with the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club in Schubert's Ständchen, and the title role in a concert performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.

Acclaimed as a "young star" and "complete artist" by the New York Times, countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen was a participant in the 2016 Merola Opera Program and a 2017-18 season member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio. His engagements in 2019 include David in Handel's Saul with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Next year also sees the release of his debut solo album featuring works by Handel, Gluck and Vivaldi with American Bach Soloists. His first commercial recording, Kenneth Fuchs' Poems of Life with the London Symphony Orchestra, was released in summer 2018. Nussbaum Cohen's many awards include First Prize winner and Audience Choice Award in the 2018 Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition, winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (2017), and a Sara Tucker Study Grant from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation (2017). He made his European debut at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, singing the role of Timante in Gluck's Demofonte.

Bass-baritone Christian Pursell appears in four San Francisco Opera productions this fall: as Walter Raleigh in Roberto Devereux, a Jailer in Tosca, Count Lamoral in Arabella and an Angel First Class in Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's It's a Wonderful Life. As a participant in the 2017 Merola Opera Program, he received critical acclaim for his performance as Dandini in La Cenerentola. His 2017 season saw debuts at both Houston Grand Opera (Tom in Laura Kaminsky's Some Light Emerges) and the Vienna State Opera (Second Englishman in Prokofiev's The Gambler), and he is featured on the 2017 world premiere recording of Greg Spears' Fellow Travelers with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. An avid concert soloist, recent performances include Britten's War Requiem, Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. Pursell's upcoming engagements include Samuel in Handel's Saul with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall and Handel's Messiah with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

A participant in the 2017 Merola Opera Program, pianist César Cañón alternates his activity as a concert pianist with vocal coaching and conducting. He has performed in his native Colombia in addition to Brazil, Canada, Italy, Mexico and the United States. In 2018, he was featured in the Schwabacher Recital Series performing Brahms' Die Schöne Magelone alongside bass-baritone Christian Pursell and soprano Felicia Moore. Cañón's collaborations encompass formats that span from piano-voice duo to full symphony orchestra. Committed to introducing audiences to Spanish and Latin American zarzuela and art song repertoire, he created and curated the University of Michigan's "En Español: Sounds of the Hispanosphere," a week-long festival dedicated to music of the Spanish-speaking nations of the world. At San Francisco Opera, he has been part of the music staff for productions of Cavalleria Rusticana and Tosca. He will be music director for Pocket Opera's production of The Elixir of Love in 2019.

San Francisco Opera Center was created in 1982 by then-general director Terence A. McEwen to oversee the operation and administration of the education and training programs initiated by Kurt Herbert Adler in 1954. Providing a coordinated sequence of performance and study opportunities for young artists, San Francisco Opera Center represents a new era in which young artists of major operatic potential can develop through intensive training and performance, under the aegis of a major international opera company. Currently under the guidance of San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald and San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock, the Opera Center has trained and introduced many young stars from around the world to the international opera stage through its resident artist programs.

Initially founded in 1977 as the San Francisco Opera Affiliate Artists program, the Adler Fellowship Program is one of the nation's most prestigious performance-oriented residencies for the most advanced young singers and pianists. Each year, Adler Fellows are sponsored by individual donors and institutional funders to help cover the cost of their fellowship, and sponsors affiliated with the Adler Program have the opportunity to attend private studio classes with the Fellows and develop nurturing relationships with them. Alumni from the Adler Fellowship Program include sopranos Jane Archibald, Susannah Biller, Leah Crocetto, Heidi Melton, Melody Moore, Patricia Racette, Nadine Sierra, Ruth Ann Swenson, Elza van den Heever and Deborah Voigt; mezzo-sopranos Zheng Cao, Kendall Gladen, Daveda Karanas, Maya Lahyani, Daniela Mack, Renée Tatum and Dolora Zajick; countertenors Brian Asawa, Ryan Belongie and Gerald Thompson; tenors Andrew Bidlack, Brian Jagde, Daniel Montenegro, Matthew O'Neill, Sean Panikkar, Alek Shrader and Noah Stewart; baritones Eugene Brancoveanu, Alfredo Daza, Mark Delavan, Austin Kness, Lucas Meachem and James Westman; bass-baritones Joshua Bloom, Ryan Kuster, John Relyea, Philip Skinner, Daniel Sumegi and Dale Travis; and basses John Ames and Kenneth Kellogg.

Widely regarded as the foremost opera training program for aspiring singers, coaches, and stage directors, the Merola Opera Program, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2017, has served as a proving ground for hundreds of artists. Many Merola alumni are now among the most recognized names in the opera world. Every summer the program offers 29 young artists the rare opportunity of studying, coaching and participating in master classes with established professionals for twelve weeks. Participants also perform in two complete opera productions with orchestra and two summer concerts. Offered free of charge for all participants, the Merola Opera Program is unique in the industry in many ways. Merola is the only young artist program to provide financial support to developing artists for five years following participation. The Merola Opera Program is a financially independent organization with a separate 501(c)3 which operates in close collaboration with the San Francisco Opera Center and San Francisco Opera. In addition, only Merola graduates are considered for participation in the San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellowship program.

For more information on the San Francisco Opera Center, Adler Fellowship and Merola Opera Program, visit and

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