Congratulations to CCM’s Yi Li, tenor, for being named the inaugural recipient of the Merola Opera Program‘s Zheng Cao Opera Fund award!

Each summer, this fund will sponsor one incoming Merola artist: either an Asian/Pacific artist or a mezzo-soprano. In addition to covering the artist’s training and housing costs, the Zheng Cao Fund will provide the additional funding needed to cover visa and travel costs associated with bringing an Asian/Pacific artist to San Francisco.

A first-year Artist Diploma candidate at CCM, Yi Li began studying voice in 2002 and entered Sichuan Conservatory of Music in 2003 where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Arts. In 2007 he began teaching at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music where he pursued a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance. He has won a number of international vocal competitions, including the 21st International Singing Contest at Marmande France in 2009, and was featured on a special Chinese New Year-themed installment of The McGraw-Hill Companies Young Artists Showcase earlier this year. He is an incoming Merola 2012 participant.

The Merola Opera Program has created the Zheng Cao Opera Fund, named for Zheng Cao, a mezzo-soprano with Merola in 1994. The endowment fund has been started with a generous initial gift from Annette Campbell-White and is open to further contributions from Zheng’s many fans and supporters. The singer’s recent battle with lung cancer led her friends, family and fans to push for the creation of a special fund in her honor.

“Many of our Merola members are aware of the serious health challenges Zheng has been facing with incredible courage,” said Merola Chairman of the Board Jayne Davis. “This endowment will continue her extraordinary generosity of spirit to succeeding generations of opera artists.”

“So many of Zheng’s friends have wanted to help her in this brutal journey through cancer and this seems a small way that we can let her know how much she means to us and what an impact she has made, and will continue to make, in so many lives,” said mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, a close personal friend and a long-time mentor to Ms. Cao.

Following her participation in the Merola Opera Program, Zheng went on to become an Adler Fellow with the San Francisco Opera. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and a Master’s Degree from the Curtis Institute of Music. A highlight of her career was her 2008 portrayal of Ruth Young Kamen in the world premiere performances of San Francisco Opera’s Bonesetter’s Daughter, an opera by composer Stuart Wallace and librettist Amy Tan.  Past roles include Idamante in Idomeneo, Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte, Nicklausse in Les contes d’Hoffman, Siebel in Faust, and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly with San Francisco Opera; Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly with Washington Opera; Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Penelope in Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria with Los Angeles Opera; Nicklausse in Les contes d’ Hoffman with Opera Pacific; Rosina Il barbiere di Siviglia with Michigan Opera; Sesto in Giulio Cesare with Pittsburgh Opera; Siebel in Faust and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly with San Diego Opera; and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly with Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Led artistically by San Francisco Opera Center Director and internationally acclaimed soprano Sheri Greenawald, the Merola Opera Program is an independent nonprofit organization which operates in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera. Founded in 1957 and named for San Francisco Opera’s founder, Gaetano Merola, the program is recognized as one of the most prestigious operatic training programs in the world. The Merola Opera Program typically receives more than 800 applications for approximately 30 positions. Throughout the summer, the Merola artists participate in master classes and private coachings with opera luminaries. Participants – who include singers, apprentice coaches and an apprentice stage director – also receive training in operatic repertory, foreign languages, diction, acting and stage movement.

The Merola Opera Program fully underwrites each participant’s travel, housing, coaching and educational expenses, as well as all production costs associated with the summer schedule and a weekly stipend for each participant.  Alumni of the program include Joyce di Donato, Sylvia McNair, Patricia Racette, Ruth Ann Swenson, Carol Vaness, Deborah Voigt, Anna Netrebko, Susan Graham, Dolora Zajick, Brian Asawa, Jess Thomas, Thomas Hampson, Rolando Villazón and Patrick Summers.

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