SFO Opening Night Lobby
The usual mob scene in the lobby opening night will not be seen in SF Opera’s 2021 fall season.


Effective Aug. 3, the mask mandate is being restored for the San Francisco Bay Area by the eight county health officers. Masks will be required “in indoor public buildings even if you are fully vaccinated [for COVID-19].” The order includes War Memorial performances venues. Read the order here.

This just in from SF Symphony: “The San Francisco Symphony today announces updated safety protocols for audiences attending live performances at Davies Symphony Hall in August 2021, requiring all patrons to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to ushers upon arrival at the hall.” Details are here.

Jennifer Norris got it right. When asked about current COVID-19 regulations in City-owned venues, the assistant managing director of the SF War Memorial and Performing Arts Center (WAR) said:

“It is confusing, an evolving situation locally and nationally.” She could have added, globally as well. Individual organizations have trouble enough, but WAR, which has the Opera House, Davies Hall, Herbst Theatre, and other performance venues to worry about has an additional complication:

Jennifer Norris
Jennifer Norris of the SF War Memorial and Performing Arts Center

“The War Memorial is a landlord and an employer,” Norris replied to the question from SF Classical Voice. “We make policy for our employees and we work in partnership with our tenants both the long-term major tenants and the short term nightly Herbst users to support their policies for their employees, performers, and patrons.”

As the COVID-19/delta-21 (B.1.617.2) situation in the world is changing from day to day, performing-arts organizations are trying to keep up with the news and also make plans for the fall season, which is now just weeks away. For them, for audiences, for the world in the near future, the only constant is change.

Rules for the War Memorial and individual organizations are guided by federal, state, and local health authorities. The most active and present authority is the San Francisco Department of Health, which lifted “local capacity limits on business and other sectors, local physical distancing requirements, and many other previous health and safety restrictions.” That was as of June 15, before awareness of the delta variant’s spread and threat. On July 20, the rules were adjusted accordingly.

SFO - Seats
With the brand-new seats installed in a better configuration, Opera House capacity decreased from 3,119 to 3,003

Combining War Memorial regulations with its own precautions, San Francisco Performances, a major presence in Herbst, is maximizing its COVID preparations, according to Nancy Bertossa, the organization’s director of communications:

“We just finished July performances in Herbst with social distanced seating. We don’t know yet what the War Memorial will require for the fall but as we did for our July programs, we will do whatever they advise for seating and safety protocols.

“We plan to hold performances in September of rescheduled Alexander String Quartet programs from this past year and then the official start of our 2021–2022 season is on Oct 7. It’s likely we will need to continue to require masks, but we have not heard if we will need to check vaccination status.”

San Francisco Opera made national news last week by announcing its strict COVID-19 policy for its 99th season, beginning Aug. 21. In New York, the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and Broadway theaters also announced vaccine documentation as requirement for attendance.

As an example of the impermanence of health measures, the SF Opera announcement on Wednesday included attendance limitation by “removing buffer seats for all five performances of Tosca, allowing as many people as possible to safely attend,” but on Thursday, the policy changed, allowing unlimited attendance in the 3,003-seat War Memorial in the fall.

SFO - "Tosca"
Eun Sun Kim makes her debut as SF Opera music director, conducting the season-opening Tosca, stage direction by Shawna Lucey, with sets and costumes designed by Robert Innes Hopkins | Credit: Cory Weaver

Meanwhile, SF Symphony in the midst of its busy summer season and ahead of its Oct. 1 reopening concert still requires masks only, but no proof of vaccination, something that was previously enforced in Davies Hall. In light of new information about the delta variant, that policy is expected to change again.

By the time you read this, some of the information may change, so if you’re heading to the Opera House or Davies Hall, check their websites. But first, back to “landlord” WAR’s stance:

For the current policy, Norris referred to the latest memo on the subject. Her reply to the question about what leeway SF Opera, SF Symphony, and individual renters in Herbst have to set rules for masks, vaccination proof, etc.:

Licensees may set their own standard for safety at performances back of house and front of house. They must at the least follow the local Health Order, but may make procedures and requirements that are more restrictive if they like. The amount of risk is different given type of artistic product, nature and age of audience, whether the program includes food and beverage. Our job is to provide a clean, safe, and well-operating venue and supporting our licensees’ success while following the law and keeping people safe.”

Looking beyond the San Francisco Civic Center, in Berkeley, at Cal Performances, where Not Our First Goat Rodeo, the season-opening outdoor concert at the Greek Theater comes up on Aug. 21, Public Relations Director Louisa Speier forwards the current guidelines (which exclude proof of vaccination status), adding that policies “will continue to be updated.”

West Bay Opera, which just announced Verdi’s Traviata and Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame in the Lucie Stern Theater next year, cannot say at this point, so far ahead, what regulations will be in effect at the time, but General Director José Luis Moscovich writes:

“What we are not prepared to do is sing behind screens, or present a production where voices are amplified, if we perform onstage. We are hoping that by then live performances will be viable without resorting to barriers, sound technology, or major reductions in audience seating capacity.

“Our audience members and long-time supporters are eager to be back in the theater, and we will do the best we can to offer them that live opera experience again, hopefully in February. If we find ourselves unable to present a live production, we are committed to recording it as a video for streaming.”

For San Francisco Ballet, whose Nutcracker run won’t open until December, chances are it will follow whatever WAR-SF Opera policies are in effect at that time. One expected difference is that whatever rules SF Opera may have for children — who are excluded under the age of 12 by the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and others — SF Ballet will continue its 76-year tradition of going out of its way to attract the right age group to the children-friendly Nutcracker.

SF Opera Public Relations Director Jeffery McMillan responds to the question about children in the War Memorial:

“We have always allowed children to attend, though there are warnings that Tosca may not be an appropriate opera for children under 12. For those families who want to bring children under the age of 12 to Tosca, they will select the section they want to sit in (subject to availability) and buffer seats will be maintained around them.”

American Bach Soloists’ “The Garden of Harmony” festival is using stricter COVID-prevention rules than the SF Health Officer previously allowed.

American Bach Soloists, whose Garden of Harmony festival runs through Aug. 7 in Herbst Theatre, has strict rules, clearly stated:

We’ve been preparing for your arrival.

To ensure your comfort and safety, we’ve spent months preparing our guidelines and protocols. All ABS musicians and staff are fully vaccinated. All Herbst Theatre staff at our concerts are fully vaccinated and wear masks.

With guidance from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, all patrons, volunteers, and administrative staff are required to wear masks at all times while in Herbst Theatre and the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center.

You and your guests must be fully vaccinated to attend this event or show proof of a negative COVID PCR test within 72 hours of the event. Full vaccination is defined as completion of the two-dose regimen of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered two weeks or more in advance of the concert.

Proof of vaccination or test is required upon arrival. You will be asked to show these credentials for each individual concert. No refunds will be made for failure to comply with these protocols. If you are not fully vaccinated, you are strongly discouraged from attending this concert for your own safety.”