Ticket for the 1932 grand opening
Ticket for the 1932 grand opening of the War Memorial Opera House | Credit: San Francisco Opera Archives

According to a ticket in the San Francisco Opera Archives, the price for Orchestra Row G/Seat 18 of the War Memorial Opera House on the night of the grand opening on Oct. 15, 1932, was $10.

(This journalist would be remiss if he didn’t also mention the design — another $10 ticket to the War Memorial’s opening night, Grand Tier Row C/Seat 9 — on his old beach towel from Honolulu’s Ala Moana Center.)

According to an SF Opera press release last week, when the company’s centennial season begins on Sept. 9, 2022, many seats will be available for ... $10.

There is much to unpack here.

— $10 in 1932 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $216.29 today.

Dagmar Dolby with Ray Dolby
Dagmar Dolby with the late Ray Dolby — the Dolby Family donation underwrites $10 tickets for hundreds during the centennial season | Courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association

— The War Memorial opened in 1932, but SF Opera was founded in 1923, performing in the Civic Auditorium, justifying 2022–2023’s centennial designation.

— “Some seats” in September at the world premiere of John Adams’s Antony and Cleopatra may cost many hundreds of dollars and be available only with donations.

— If all seats were $10, how many would need to be sold to make up the company’s approximately $80 million operating budget for the season? (Apparently 8 million, which would require 2,667 performances in the 3,000-newly refurbished-seat Opera House.)

And now, to the headline item: $10 in 2022?

“As the company celebrates 100 years of producing opera in the Bay Area, the Dolby Family is providing a new benefit to residents. Throughout the centennial season, $10 tickets in prime seating sections will be available to anyone with a Bay Area mailing address zip code (beginning with 940–954) who has not attended San Francisco Opera in the past three years. The Dolby Family is generously offering 100 ‘Opera for the Bay’ seats for every mainstage performance.”

Dagmar Dolby said: “100 years ago, San Francisco Opera was born through the confluence of bold ideas, great artistry, and passionate support. With the company now entering its second century, we want to invite people of all ages and backgrounds around the Bay Area to experience the art produced by this dynamic institution — their opera company. We hope the ‘Opera for the Bay’ ticket initiative is the catalyst that encourages the newcomer, entices the opera curious, and welcomes back those who have not been in a while.”

These tickets will be available on a first-come basis at sfopera.com one month before the first performance of each opera, starting on Aug. 9 for the “Centennial Celebration Concert” and Antony and Cleopatra. Each eligible resident may purchase up to two $10 tickets for one performance during the 2022–2023 season.

For all others: Subscriptions are priced from $178 to $3,248 for full series (6–8 productions), and $42 to $1,624 for half series (2–4 productions). Single tickets range from $26 to $422 and are available at the San Francisco Opera box office, by phone at (415) 864-3330 and online.

Inside the War Memorial
Inside the War Memorial Opera House | Credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In other SF Opera centennial news:

Centennial Exhibitions

Costumes worn on stage by SF Opera stars, including Leontyne Price, Kirsten Flagstad, and Dorothy Kirsten, along with rare photographs, set models, and artifacts from the San Francisco Opera Archives, will be exhibited throughout the year. In partnership with the SFO Museum at the San Francisco International Airport, the San Francisco Public Library, Museo Italo Americano, and other community partners, rarely seen treasures from 100 years of San Francisco theatrical history will be on view around the city and the greater Bay Area in public exhibitions.

“Streaming the First Century”

For the first time, San Francisco Opera is providing digital access to a curated selection of historic radio broadcasts, house recordings, archival interviews, and newly captured conversations. “Streaming the First Century” will feature highlights from San Francisco Opera’s preserved audio history in four free installments linked thematically to the centennial season’s onstage repertory. Contemporary scholars, performers, and company members introduce each milestone performance, which include a 20th-century work conducted with unforgettable intensity by a local legend, a neglected French romance dusted off for an only-in-San-Francisco dream cast, a banner Puccini night with three iconic artists all making role debuts, and a beloved favorite in one of her most entrancing and provocative performances, among many others. More details will be announced for the four monthly releases beginning in September.

Backstage at Don Carlo, 1966
Rock Hudson, Henry Lewis, Jim Nabors, and Marilyn Horne backstage at Don Carlo, 1966 | Credit: San Francisco Opera Archives

Community Open House

In addition to SF Opera’s 100th season, this year also marks the 90th anniversary of the War Memorial Opera House. In celebration of both anniversaries, San Francisco Opera opens the doors of its historic home at a free event on Sunday, Oct. 23, to reveal some of the fun and magic that transpires inside one of the most beautiful theaters in the world. The day’s activities will include musical performances, backstage show-and-tell tours, demonstrations of stage magic, an operatic scavenger hunt, and hands-on crafts. Bring the whole family and spend the day in one of the Bay Area’s historic community gathering spaces and a world-renowned site for opera.

The Traviata Encounter

This one-night-only event on Nov. 19 offers attendees the opportunity to experience the first act of La traviata in the auditorium and then enjoy a rollicking afterparty throughout the lobbies, which will be transformed with inspiration from the remaining portions of the opera, in collaboration with the production’s creative team. Special food and drink offerings, dancing, and selfie-worthy moments will complete this immersive encounter designed to transport guests into the decadent setting of Verdi’s masterwork.

The Opera in You

SFO open house
San Francisco Opera open house | Credit: Kristen Loken

Stories of operas can reveal amazing journeys and teach us empathy. Opera is storytelling on a grand scale where big ideas and big emotions make us laugh, cry, and bring comfort. Be it dramatic tales of triumph, survival, perseverance, or hope, everyone has a story to tell, no matter their age or background. San Francisco Opera’s Department of Diversity, Equity, and Community leads The Opera in You, a new story-writing program to uncover the stories that are within each of us. Through alliances with partners, including the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and the San Francisco Public Library system, anyone can participate in free 5- or 9-week workshops in memoir writing and storytelling (space permitting; tools will also be made available online). Participants will have an opportunity to dive deeper into the creative experience with their stories and share them with the public.

Bohème Out of the Box

An abridged version of Puccini’s La bohème will travel around the Bay Area in a converted shipping container and be performed by the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows in Italian with English narration and keyboard accompaniment. These free performances on a state-of-the-art mobile stage will bring powerful emotions and soaring arias directly to communities in a relaxed, intimate environment. Dates and locations will be announced soon.