The San Francisco Opera is the second largest opera company in North American (after the New York Metropolitan Opera). The Opera presents ten new productions annually at the War Memorial Opera House. Founded in 1923, it continues to grow and has earned a reputation for excellence throughout the world.
The San Francisco Opera was the brainchild of Gaetano Merola. He created the company in 1923 and acted as its general manager and music director until his death in 1953. Subsequent musical directors have included Kurt Herbert Adler, Terrace McEwan, Lofti Mansouri, and Pamela Rosenberg. The current director is David Gockley, who has held the post since 2001.
The San Francisco Opera's first performance was La Boheme in 1923 at the Civic Auditorium. The company moved into the newly built War Memorial Opera House in 1932 and performed Tosca as its opening opera.
Over the years, the Opera has presented the US debut of numerous artists, including singers, Marie Collier, Birgit Nilsson, Leontyne Price, and Renata Tebaldi; conductors, Georg Solti and Valery Gergiev; and directors Francis Ford Coppola and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.
The Opera's "Pacific Vision" group, founded in 1992, is an ambitious program that encourages and commissions new operas. It has been responsible for adding new and innovative works to the company's repetoire, including "Dead Man Walking", based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, and "Harvey Milk", an opera by Stewart Wallace about the slain San Francisco commissioner.
The San Francisco Opera company is composed of a dedicated chorus of 50 singers, a full orchestra, and a ballet corps. This group is augmented by guest soloists, directors, and musicians.
The Opera offers a number of educational opportunites for gifted students. Among them are:
- Merola Opera Program - Named for the Opera's first artistic director, this program, begun in 1954, gives 23 aspiring singers, 4 apprentice coaches, and one apprentice director the opportunity to study, coach, and participate in master classes with established professionals over an eleven-week period in the summer.
- SF Opera Center - This adjunct to the Opera offers coordinated sequence of performance and study opportunities to local young artists. Programs include the Showcase Series, Brown Bag Concerts, and the Opera Center Singers.
The San Francisco Opera is very visible in the community. One of the highlights of the fall season is the free concert in Golden Gate Park the Sunday following the Opera's opening weekend.
The Opera's Bravo! Club is a Opera-sponsored group of young professionals who enjoy opera. Events include special lectures and performances as well as the annual Gala Bravo event during the opening weekend of the season.
The San Francisco Opera performs at the War Memorial Opera House in the Civic Center on Van Ness Boulevard. The Opera House is easily accessible via BART and by city busses along Market St. and Van Ness.
Tickets to Opera performances may be purchased at the Opera House box office or through ticket brokers, such as Ticketmaster. The Opera also offers subscription series tickets for the entire or a portion of the season. Same-day discounted tickets are sometimes available for Students, Seniors, and Military personnel.
Dress for Opera performances is as varied as the people who attend the Opera. You'll see everything from jeans to black tie attire. The best advice is to wear what makes you feel comfortable. You're sure to see someone dressed as you are.