We have been thrilling audiences in San Francisco since 1923. We are known for commissioning numerous world premieres, training some of opera’s greatest young artists and being one of the world’s leading opera companies.
San Francisco has had a love affair with opera for more than 168 years. In fact, citizens during the Gold Rush were mad for it. Between 1851 and the earthquake of 1906, nearly 5,000 opera performances were given in San Francisco in 26 different theaters. San Francisco Opera, one of the world’s leading opera companies for more than 97 years, is synonymous with what the Bay Area is known for: entrepreneurship, innovation and community involvement.
The City’s resident company was established in 1923, thanks to a young Neapolitan conductor named Gaetano Merola (1881–1953) who came to San Francisco in 1906. He saw that the money San Franciscans paid to see various touring companies could easily support a permanent opera company. He also knew of plans for a grand hall for music and opera, which would eventually become the War Memorial Opera House, and thought it should be inaugurated by a local group. Merola built relationships with the City’s philanthropic and Italian communities and worked to secure funding from San Francisco’s business community to establish the San Francisco Opera Association—the oldest surviving opera company on the West Coast.
From 1924 to 1937, Merola and a small group of artists made short tours to Los Angeles. Because of their popularity, the Company presented consecutive Los Angeles seasons through 1965 and expanded the tours to other cities. From San Diego to Seattle, San Francisco Opera established itself as the opera company of the West Coast and paved the way for other permanent companies in California, Oregon and Washington.