SF Opera Previews its New Intimate Performance Space

Hard hat tour of the new Wilsey Opera Center in the Veteran's Building (Photo: Cy Musiker)

San Francisco Opera is building a new intimate performance space, which it hopes to open in late February, and the organization recently took a group of journalists on a hard-hat tour of the project in process.

The new space is being built in the Veteran’s Building next door to the Opera House, as part of its plans to consolidate offices and its costume studio. At the invitation of the  War Memorial Board of Trustees, which operates the Veteran’s Building, SF Opera is taking the whole fourth floor and parts of the basement once occupied by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The entrance to the unfinished Taube Atrium Theater
The entrance to the unfinished Taube Atrium Theater (Cy Musiker)

The 299-seat "Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater" will be the centerpiece of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera. The theater is scheduled to open Feb. 28 with the first concert of the Schwabacher Debut Recital Series, followed by the San Francisco premiere of a multi-media version of Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter Journey), which is being produced by South African artist William Kentridge and sung by German baritone Matthias Goerne. That will be followed by a series of chamber recitals and Ana Sokolović’s Svadba-Wedding, an a cappella chamber opera for six women.

“The Wilsey center and the (Taube) atrium theater will serve as an incubator for new ideas,” said the opera’s General Director David Gockley, “stimulating new audiences, keeping the public engaged with us, while the ballet is in the opera house during the first four or five months of the year."

Gockley and architect Mark Cavagnero, who designed the SFJAZZ Center, led reporters on a hard hat tour of the $22-million refurbished space on Monday. Gockley noted that when he arrived at SF Opera ten years ago, the company was spread over seven locations, including commercial spaces whose rents were expected to triple or quadruple.

Architect Mark Cavagnero
Architect Mark Cavagnero (Cy Musiker)

“There’s an immediate savings in rent of about a $1 million,” Gockley said as construction work continued around him, “which we are pouring into the programming of the Taube Atrium.”

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In some ways, SF Opera is copying the experiments of its neighbor, the San Francisco Symphony and its Soundbox concert venue.

SF Opera General Director David Gockley testing out a seat for the new Taube Theater
SF Opera General Director David Gockley testing out a seat for the new Taube Theater (Cy Musiker)

SF Opera hopes to attract the same younger, musically adventurous audiences that have made SoundBox such a success. The opera’s new atrium theater will feature the same Meyer Sound Constellation acoustic system, and copy SoundBox’s more relaxed atmosphere.

As an example of the new approach, the seats for the Taube Atrium Theater come equipped with cup holders, something that would be unthinkable in the Opera House next door.

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