Finn Sagal, a La Cañada Flintridge resident and aspiring opera singer, doesn’t remember a world without music.
“Ever since I can remember, my house was filled with the music of Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Paul Desmond,” said Sagal. “My mom comes from a very rich life as a stage actor, so there was also quite a lot of Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber.”
The 23-year-old is now part of the Merola Opera Program, a limited training program based in San Francisco for young opera singers to hone their craft over the summer. He was selected from an international pool of more than 1,300 applicants and is one of the 28 young artists selected for this year’s talented cohort.
Sagal started to play the saxophone at around 8 years old, opting not to pursue singing like his two older siblings.
“I think it’s ironic that I’m the one now pursuing it as a career,” said Sagal. “I first started singing jazz standards in middle school and my love for that music only grew when I won the Great American Songbook Academy Competition in 2017. This meant I got to travel the country performing with Michael Feinstein in venues like Jazz at Lincoln Center, Feinstein’s 54 Below and Feinstein’s at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco.”
His love for music grew even more as he grew up and studied opera at UCLA.
“I fell in love with classical music when I was 17, and since then I’ve been determined to make it my career,” said Sagal. “I love the collaboration, passion and technique that is asked of opera singers. Most of all, however, I simply love opera music.”
He said that the first time he watched Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” it was a transformative experience. He said he was amazed that music written hundreds of years ago could evoke so many emotions.
“I knew at that moment, I needed to make this my life,” said Sagal.
Sagal graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s in music in 2022 and is currently at the Yale School of Music doing his master’s degree in music. During the summer, he embarks on his 12-week journey with the Merola program.
“I found out about Merola through word of mouth,” said Sagal. “This is one of the top programs for young singers at one of the greatest opera houses in the world. I feel extremely grateful to be a part of this program every day I’m here. San Francisco Opera is without a doubt a dream venue for me to perform in one day.”
The program is an internationally respected model for building strong careers in opera, with a proven balance of training, performance and individualized support, according to the website.
When he found out about the news of getting accepted into the program, Sagal said he was in disbelief at first.
“But then a new sense of confidence came over me,” said Sagal. “I felt like I was taking my next step toward making my dream come true.”
And so far, the program has been a great experience for him.
“The staff is unbelievable, and the other singers are jaw-droppingly good,” said Sagal. “What I appreciate the most about the program so far though is this wonderful sense of collaboration. Everyone is like-minded in the sense that they want to create beautiful music that will transport people. At Merola, the staff also want you to make that beautiful music in a way that is uniquely you. Merola celebrates individuality.”
Sagal would like to learn how to be as authentic as possible when performing during his time with Merola.
“Sometimes as performers we can get stuck thinking, ‘How should I act here?’ instead of breathing and living in the moment,” said Sagal. “More spontaneity is something I’m hoping to achieve in my music this summer.”
As for the future, Sagal doesn’t plan on stopping.
“My No. 1 goal for a while now has been to be the best singer I can possibly be,” said Sagal. “This is a never-ending journey, but it fuels me in the pursuit of reaching people through my art. At my core, this is always what’s most important to me. However, I’m getting close to being done with school and it is time to make my voice my profession.”
He hopes to soon get contracted with a major opera company and work as an artist.
“Merola sets the standards and skills for someone who is about to take that step. More importantly it fosters your unique voice as an artist,” said Sagal. “This is essential before a young singer begins their professional journey.”
First published in the July 6 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.