and ends long after it has come down.
It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life,
and it stays part of my life
long after I’ve left the opera house.”
This past Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the San Francisco Opera’s amazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the War Memorial Opera House. The War Memorial Opera House has been home to the San Francisco Opera since its début in 1932. It is a magnificent building; both inside and out. The grand steps leading up to the front doors are reminiscent of Cinderella when she lost her glass slipper. In 1927, $4 million in municipal bonds were issued to finance the design and construction of the first municipally owned opera house in the United States. The architects of the building were Arthur Brown Jr., who designed City Hall, and G. Albert Lansburgh, a theater designer responsible for San Francisco’s Orpheum and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
Completed in 1932, the opera house is one of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States. A row of paired columns and colossal arch-headed windows above a severe rusticated basement remind one of the Louvre in Paris.
Once inside the grand entrance hall, the high barrel-vaulted and coffered ceiling will leave you breathless. The theater space is dominated by a massive aluminum and glass panel chandelier under a blue vault, and the proscenium arch is decorated with golden sculptures. The theater holds 3,146 seats plus 200 standing room places.
The best seats in the house are truly a personal choice. I have sat in the dress circle, a box, the center of the orchestra level, and the third row center of the orchestra level. There are definite pros and cons for each seat. The dress circle is great if you want to see the entire stage. You will be able to read the surtitles and see the performers on the stage. I do recommend investing in or renting a pair of opera glasses if you want to see details of the stage and performers closeup.
Box seats are amazing because you have your own space. You can whisper to your company and enjoy a glass of champagne while watching the show. Our box seats were to the left of the stage so when there was something happening far-left, it was a little more difficult to see what was happening. The center orchestra was great because I was close enough to see what was happening yet far enough to see the whole stage and surtitles.
The third row was an experience in itself. I found that I was so engrossed in the story that I did not feel the need to look up at the surtitles. I was two seats away from the maestro (Nicola Luisotti) and felt entranced by his passion for the music and found myself watching him for much of the time. It was also incredible to watch the orchestra and see the musician who is playing the exact note you are hearing. Any seat you get will guarantee a wonderful experience.
During intermission, you can arrange to have drinks and snacks ready for you and your party on the box level. It is so nice to have a nice snack and toast to a fun evening while getting a stretch during the intermission. This last time, we had a bottle of champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, dark-chocolate truffles, and a lemon mousse waiting for us for the first intermission and some coffee during the second (it was a four-hour opera). During a matinée showing of Madama Butterfly, we had a bottle of champagne and a cheese platter which was just perfect for the mid-afternoon.
If going to the opera, I recommend making it into an experience that you will never forget. Turn it into a whole day of fun and get your makeup done, take a luxurious bath, and go out to dinner. The stories, music, and performers are all wonderful. Plus, any girl loves an excuse to get dressed up and feel like a princess for a night!
“I have always believed that opera is a planet
where the muses work together,
join hands and celebrate all the arts.”