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by Jill Loeffler •
Updated: March 1, 2023
The SF Opera is the second largest company in North America. Their first performance was Tosca in 1923. Here you can see world class performances that range from dramas to comedies and everything in between.
They offer about a half a dozen performances each fall and winter. This season kicks off in September and runs through early December.
Their second, shorter season is in the summer. This season usually offers about three shows. All start in June and end in late June to early July.
The SF Opera also kicks off their Fall Season with a free performance in Golden Gate Park. This free "Opera in the Park" show is held on the Sunday before opening night in September.
The SF Opera has called the War Memorial Opera House home since October 1932. Their popular shows continue to bring in thousands of audience members to this beautiful venue every year.
They share the space with the award winning SF Ballet Company. Neither company offers year-round performances. The SF Ballet kicks off their season in December with The Nutcracker and continues offering performances from January to May.
The SF Symphony used to share this space as well, but has since built a dedicated space for their performances which is called Davies Symphony Hall.
The War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco's Civic Center District includes seating for just over 3,000 people.
Here is the full schedule for the upcoming seasons.
Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.
Madame Butterfly: June 3, 6, 9, 18, 21, 24, and 27; July 1, 2023, find tickets
One of the most iconic and heartbreaking of modern operas, Puccini's Madame Butterfly features a Japanese woman named Cio-Cio-San, who waits longingly for her American husband, U.S. Naval officer Pinkerton, to return to Japan to meet their young son, Trouble. However, Pinkerton's return is not as expected: he has come with his newly wedded American wife. In this production, director Aman Miyamoto reimagines this work through the eyes of little Trouble. Approx. 3 hours. Sung in Italian with English supertitles.
Die Frau Ohne Schatten: June 4, 10, 20, 23, and 28, 2023, find tickets
In Strauss's rarely performed masterpiece, the Empress was created by the supernatural but needs humanity to survive. She has just three days to acquire a human shadow. If she fails, she must return to the spirit world and her husband will be turned to stone. Enjoy the magic of this touching opera. Approx. 4 hours. Sung in German with English supertitles.
El Ultimo Sueño de Frida y Diego: June 13, 17, 22, 25, and 30, 2023, find tickets
This is a new opera that takes audiences on a surreal journey into the underworld. One of the most famous artist couples in history have the chance to become more united in death than they were in life, as an ailing and lonely Diego Rivera seeks to fulfill a final wish: to see his deceased wife Frida Kahlo on the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday. Approx. 2 hours. Sung in Spanish with English supertitles.
Il Trovatore: September 12, 17, 20, 23, and 29; October 1, 2023
A classic Giuseppe Verdi opera brought to life in a visceral production by director Sir David McVicar. Taking place during the Peninsular War in Spain, the story is passionate and haunting, and consists of four acts: The Duel, The Gypsy, The Gypsy's Son, and The Execution. The dramatic unfolding of events between rival suitors of Leonora—the Count and the Troubadour—reveals the tragic past of a gypsy mother and long-lost brothers mixed up in love, war, and revenge. Approx. 2 hours 40 minutes with one intermission. Sung in Italian with English supertitles.
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs: September 22, 24, 27, and 30; October 3 and 7, 2023
This modern opera couldn't get any more local, as San Francisco composer Mason Bates tell the story of Apple and its creator where it all began. Witness the complex journey of the man behind the devices that brought the world to our fingertips, a story of love, betrayal, obsession, and death. A new take on opera that intertwines classical lyricism with a techno soundscape of the sounds of early computers. Approx. 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission. Sung in English.
Lohengrin: October 15, 18, 21, 24, and 27; November 1, 2023
In this epic Wagner masterpiece, the protagonist Elsa wishes for someone to save her from a terrible situation in which she is being blamed for the disappearance of her brother in a totalitarian regime. The savior comes in the form of a knight who helps her under the condition that she never ask his name, a secret that becomes her obsession. Approx. 4 hours 20 minutes with two intermissions. Sung in German with English supertitles.
Omar: November 5, 7, 11, 15, 17, and 21, 2023
This new opera tells the heroic true story of an Islamic scholar named Omar Ibn Said who was taken from his West African village in the early 1800s and sold into slavery, landing in South Carolina. His attempt to flee results in him being taken prisoner and ending up at another plantation, where his new slaveholder wants to convert him to Christianity. He then records his journey of faith in Arabic. Approx. 2 hours 45 minutes with one intermission. Sung in English.
The Elixir of Love: November 19, 24, 26, and 29; December 5 and 9, 2023
This beautiful and entertaining quest for romance on the Mediterranean Riviera brings comedy to the opera stage. The young waiter Nemorino has nothing to bide for the attention of the attractive hotel owner Adina, so for his fate in love, he gambles everything on a bottle of elixir from a quack salesman. Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. Sung in Italian with English supertitles.
The Magic Flute: May 30; June 2, 4, 8, 14, 20, 22, 26 and 30, 2024
In Mozart's final opera, alive with some of the composer's most exquisite music ever written, a very unlikely pair of a prince and a bird catcher set out to rescue a captured princess, armed with nothing more than a magic flute and magic bells. They venture into a magical world of spells and secrets, and this beautifully eclectic production will draw you in as well, inspired by 1920s cabaret, silent cinema, and early Hollywood animation. Approx. 2 hours 40 minutes with one intermission. Sung in German with English supertitles.
Innocence: June 1, 7, 12, 16, 18 and 21, 2024
Marriage should be a happy beginning, but for this new bride and groom, a devastatingly dark secret is suddenly revealed at their wedding celebration, bringing into question innocence and guilt and threatening to tear them apart. In this fantastic opera, the resistance of love and family are tested in the face of tragedy. Approx. 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission. Sung in English, Finnish, Czech, Romanian, French, Swedish, German, Spanish, and Greek.
Partenope: June 15, 19, 23, 25 and 28, 2024
In this hilarious comedy, Partenope—the queen of the "Roaring 1920s" social scene in Paris—is also the subject of various suitors' attention. This story of love and rejection, and surrealist artists, will have you laughing out loud. Approx. 3 hours 30 minutes with two intermissions. Sung in Italian with English supertitles.
Date: Sunday, September 10, 2023
Each September, the SF Opera offers one free show in Golden Gate Park to kick off their upcoming fall season. The 2023 performance will be held in Robin Williams Meadow, open to all, especially to families who want to bring a picnic for the lawn.
At this free show in the park, you will enjoy a variety of performances from the 2023-2024 Season with music by the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, led by Music Director Eun Sun Kim.
Doors open at 1:30 pm.
The dress code in San Francisco, and in most of California, is casual. At the SF Opera, you will see attendees dressed in everything from suits and dresses to jeans.
Even though the city is casual, I recommend dressing up just a little. Smart casual (or business casual) is your best choice.
Many people come to these shows after work or a nice dinner, so most will be dressed in this manner. This will allow you to fit in, but not be over or under dressed for the show.
Before your visit, I also recommend checking out my "What to Wear" page. Here you will find recommendations on what to pack based on the weather for the season you are visiting.
The best place to find a great restaurant before the show is in the nearby Hayes Valley neighborhood. This area has some of the best new and established restaurants in the city.
Here you will find everything from the upscale restaurants to the grab and go options. Discover more of my favorites in the area here.
Do they seat late comers? The SF Opera does NOT seat those that arrive after the performance has started. You are welcome to relax in their onsite bar/restaurant and watch the performance on a TV until intermission.
At this time, you are welcome to enter and take your seat for the rest of the show.
How early should I arrive to the SF Opera performances? The doors open about 1-hour before the curtain. This is the earliest you can take your seat for the performance. However, their on-site restaurant opens 2-hours before each show.
I recommend making a reservation in advance if you plan to eat here before the performance. They also offer Pre-Show Talks, which start about 55 minutes before the show. It's a great way to learn more about what you are about to see.
Do the SF Opera shows have an intermission? Yes, almost all of the operas offer one (and sometimes two) intermissions. They usually last around 20 to 25 minutes, so you will have plenty of time to get back into the performance before it starts.
They will not seat those that return after the show has already started, so please plan ahead during intermission.
What else should I know before I arrive? I always recommend reading up on each performance before you arrive. This will allow you to get the most out of each one.
All shows not sung in English will feature subtitles, so you can follow along. This is easy to do and allows you to get the full experience.
The War Memorial Opera House is at 301 Van Ness Avenue. Since it's right in the city center, it's easy to get to from most SF neighborhoods.
Driving: One of the most popular options is to drive. While this isn't necessary, you will find several great parking garages nearby. Many charge a $20 event fee, so make sure you are prepared for the additional charge. Here is more information on the best garages in the area.
Muni buses: There are two buses from Union Square that pick up on Market Street and stop every two blocks:
49 Van Ness/Mission: This bus picks up on the western side of Fisherman's Wharf at Van Ness Avenue and Bay Street. It makes stops every two blocks. Take it nine stops to the McAllister Street stop, which will put you right in front of the steps to the building.
>> More tips for getting around SF
The SF Opera is easy to get to on SF Public transit and by car. However, you will also find some great hotels within walking distance. Here are just a few of my top recommendations.
Inn at the Opera: 3.5-star hotel, just a block from the SF Opera, 333 Fulton Street, read reviews from recent guests at it here.
Days Inn at the Civic Center: 2.0-star motel just a couple of blocks from the War Memorial Opera House, in the Hayes Valley district, 465 Grove Street, discover more about this hotel and book a room.
Holiday Inn Civic Center: 3.5-star hotel about 4 blocks away, centrally located near public transit along Market Street, 50 8th Street, see what others had to stay about their stay.
More hotels in the Civic Center & Hayes Valley districts.
I love attending performances at the War Memorial Opera House. As I mentioned above, this gorgeous building opened in 1932. It was one of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the US.
This 3,146-seat auditorium houses several events including all of the SF Opera and SF Ballet performances.
The minute you step into the lobby, you know you are in for a treat. Take some time walking around and admiring all of its features.
Also, make sure you step around to the sides. This is where you will find two tapestries from the 1700s. The picture below shows just one of these magnificent pieces.
The auditorium is just as beautiful. Even though it's been remodeled over the years, they did a great job in keeping its original look.
These are the fantastic finishes above and to the sides of the stage. You will find these types of finishes throughout the auditorium.
While it's most fun to attend an event here, if there are no shows playing during your visit, you can also go on a guided tour for a look inside this beautiful building.
Every Monday (except holidays) at from 10am to 2pm, the War Memorial and Performing Arts Center offers a walking tour for the public. The tours leave every hour from the Grove Street entrance of the Davies Symphony Hall.
The tours are $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors (cash only).
You don't need a reservation, just walk in and the volunteers will set you up for the next scheduled tour.
The Perfect Day in the Civic Center & Alamo Square: These two districts sit near each other in the heart of San Francisco, so it's perfect to visit them in the same day. This self-guided tour offers you the best route to take when visiting these two districts. You can go at your own pace and see the best that these two districts offer.
Asian Art Museum: Another popular stop in this district is the Asian Art Museum. It focuses on Asian art from China, Japan, and India. It also showcases a number of gorgeous pieces from smaller Asian countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Nepal. It's one of my favorite museums in the city and must see when visiting this area.
City Hall: I also love making a stop at City Hall. From Monday to Friday, they invite the public to take a look at their magnificent structure. It's free to enter (though you will need to go through security). Make sure to visit their small museum, the photo exhibit on the lower level, and the breathtaking marble staircase.
Comments? Questions? Suggestions?
I would love for you join me in my private Facebook group!
It’s a great place to interact with me and others that know the area well.
You can ask questions, get advice for your upcoming stay, and then share your photos and advice with others when you return home. It’s a great community and the fastest way to get answers to those nagging questions about your visit!