San Francisco’s love for opera goes back to the gold rush years, and historian George Martin chronicles more than forty opera houses operating in the city in the 19th century. On April 18th, 1906, tenor Enrico Caruso stayed at the Palace hotel following his appearance in Carmen at the Mission Opera House. He vowed never to return to the city. In 1910 Louisa Tetrazzini sang for the crowds at Lotte’s fountain to celebrate the city’s rebuilding – an event commemorated every year since.
Of course, the leading figure in San Francisco’s opera scene is the San Francisco Opera. Many have been impressed by the ability of the relatively small city of San Francisco to support an international class opera company on par with urban centers five or ten times its size. The War Memorial opera house opened in 1932 and was supported by the then-large Italian community. The company was built by two legendary general directors: Gaetano Merola and especially Kurt Herbert Adler. The company operates on a semi-repertory model, and the resident chorus, orchestra, and ballet have been full time ensembles since the 1970′s.
The San Francisco Opera is not alone, however. The Bay Area hosts several smaller professional and semi-professional troups including Walnut Creek’s Festival Opera, West Bay Opera, West Edge Opera, and the more distant Opera San Jose. Many non-opera organizations including Ensemble Parallele, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and Cal Performances also mount fully professional staged and semi-staged productions. (Thomas Busse)