Find everything you need to know about one of San Francisco's most revered cultural institutions, the San Francisco Opera.

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January 27, 2020

Your Guide to the San Francisco Opera

Anyone who loves big voices, beautiful music, and breathtaking costumes is in for a treat at the San Francisco Opera, the longest continuously running opera company on the West Coast. Housed in the magnificent War Memorial Opera Building, the world renowned San Francisco Opera is both a cultural and architectural jewel of the city's Civic Center.

With a nine month regular season spanning September to May plus a special summer series, it's always a good time to catch a performance. From classic productions like Puccini's "La Bohème" to operatic renderings of modern literary sensations like Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaids Tale," the performances here represent a full spectrum of opera at it's finest.

History of the San Francisco Opera

San Francisco has been in love with opera since the Gold Rush days, when more than two dozen different theaters across the city hosted visiting opera companies. Touring San Francisco in 1906, the young Italian conductor Gaetano Merola saw the need for a permanent company here. After visiting for years, in 1923 he decided to stay in the city and found the San Francisco Opera Company.

Tapping into the large Italian-American community and other local patrons of the arts, Merola and the San Francisco Opera got the War Memorial Opera House built entirely on contributions from the public, making it the first project of its kind in the country. Constructed by architect Arthur Brown Jr., who also designed San Francisco's palatial City Hall just across the street, the 3,146-seat venue has been the home of the San Francisco Opera ever since Opening Night 1932, when the company performed Puccini's "Tosca."

By the 1970s, the San Francisco Opera was already considered one of the top companies in the world. International stars like Placido Domingo performed here regularly. The San Francisco Opera is also known for debuting brand new works, including 1996's "Harvey Milk," a joint commission with the Houston and New York City operas.

Attending the San Francisco Opera

Tickets to the San Francisco Opera are available through or in person at the box office (301 Van Ness Ave.) Box offices hours are Monday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., and Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Because the San Francisco Opera has a very dedicated local subscriber base, the sooner you buy tickets the better.

Check out the seating chart for an idea of the different viewing options and price points available, as both the balcony and the main floor are divided into a half dozen different sections each. Most shows run for two or three weeks and have at least one Wednesday and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., besides the 7 p.m. evening performances.

Prices run from around $80 to more than $200 a seat, depending on which section and which performance. The San Francisco Opera also offers rush tickets on the same day of the show to seniors, students and military personal for select performances. These run $30 to $35 and can be purchased online after 11 a.m. There are also around 200 standing room tickets available for each performance at $10 each, cash only. 150 of these go on sale at 10 a.m. and the remaining 50 are available two hours before the show—first come, first served. Those that arrive late will not be seated until the first intermission of the performance.

More Arts in the Civic Center Area

The San Francisco Opera is just one of the world class performing arts institutions in Civic Center. The War Memorial Opera House is also the main performance space of the critically-acclaimed San Francisco Ballet. Located right across the courtyard from the Opera House and matching its architectural style, the 892-seat Herbst Theater presents performances from local groups, including classical music, jazz and dance acts.

Just a block away is Davies Symphony Hall, home to the San Francisco Symphony. On Franklin St., the SFJAZZ Center hosts a full calendar year of international names and top local talent. The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium is a historic masterpiece that hosts many of the cities top pop concerts and cultural events.

The nearby Sydney Goldstein Theater, built in glorious Spanish revival-style, hosts the City Arts and Lectures series with leading cultural figures from around the world. The New Conservatory Theater presents theatrical pieces that explore issues related to the LGBT community with a full season of productions.


Where to Stay and Dine Near the San Francisco Opera

It's always a great idea to combine a night out at the Opera with a quality dining experience, and Civic Center has several stand-out options. August 1 Five does upscale Indian cuisine in a stylish setting. Located within the historic Whitcomb Hotel, the Market Street Grill serves Italian-American classics with live music. In Hayes Valley, stop by Rich Table for fresh California cuisine. Espetus Churrascaria carves Brazillian-style steaks for you table-side. ROH Bar and Restaurant specializes in seafood with an Asian flair, while Ruth's Chris Steak House does classic steak and lobster in an refined setting.

Spending the night near the opera is always a good idea and there are several quality accommodation options to choose from. Check out the poolside rooms at The Phoenix Hotel. It's long been a favorite for visiting musicians and performance artists. For something with old world charm, consider booking a room at the Hotel Whitcomb, an architectural landmark built in 1910. In nearby SoMa, the BEI San Francisco offers modern comfort with nice views of the city, while the SoMa Park Inn features motor lodge-style accommodations. Those who want a fully urban experience will enjoy lounging on the rooftop terrace of the Cova Hotel, located in San Francisco's Little Saigon neighborhood.


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