Post by contributor Alex Vikmanis
Let’s be honest. Going to the opera is not the first idea that would come to mind on a random Saturday night for young hipsters in San Francisco. It really is at the bottom of the list of fun things to do. I mean, maybe the opera was cool upon its inception in Italy at the end of the 16th century when there weren’t indie pop shows or endless art openings or new bars with the best mixologists. Sure, young people two hundred years ago actually went to the opera and wooed each other and declared duels and wore long gloves and other dramatic and exciting things, but now it must just be a bunch of old ladies in musty furs dragging their tottering, hairless and toothless gents behind them. And also, isn’t the opera just plain boring?
Ok, fine, a lot of that is true. On our recent excursion to San Francisco Opera’s performance of Dolores Claiborne at the War Memorial Opera House, my best friend, Lisa, and I did run into a lot of old people and found the whole style of singing rather grating, but we also had one of the best nights out that we’ve had recently. This is how the opera is cool.
Dressing over the top is a must
When I think of opera, I think of attire: tails, furs, gloves, top hats, diamonds. Because we’re in San Francisco, you can take it to a whole different level, mixing casual and black tie. Try shorts, high tops, and a bow tie. How about crushed velvets and huge white faux furs? Bright red shoes and a sleeveless hoodie with no shirt will do. Even going practically naked in several layers of lace is fine. Take all of your jewelry and put it all on. You won’t get dirty looks, but do expect a lot of admiring stares and appreciative glances. Especially when you tipsily drop your most important accessory, a leopard print flask, down the aisle for all to see.
Tickets are not as expensive as you think
I hear your protestations: "...but I’m a poor starving artist/writer/barista in San Francisco, I don’t have money for something bougie like the opera!" Tickets are way less expensive than you think. For twenty-five bucks a pop, you can sit in the nosebleeds, which quite frankly, will do nicely. You basically feel like some sort of god watching these amazing voices pitch themselves all the way up to you. And if you want to see the details, the SF Opera has screens and subtitles right in front of the upper balcony. If you get really obsessed with the opera, you can even become a real patron and buy a half season or out of town series where you can mix and match what shows you want to see. Imagine it! A real opera connoisseur in the last row with a half season pass! Hey, you’re even supporting local arts! Getting a drink and seeing a movie isn’t really any cheaper.
The War Memorial Opera House is Crazy
If the opera really does end up boring you, it will still be worth going to see the venue. The War Memorial Opera House is not only imposing on the outside, but beautiful and elaborate on the inside: ornate ceilings, winding stone staircases, huge gilded mirrors perfect for taking selfies, amazing views of the city, public and exclusive dining areas, powder rooms, and coral drinking fountains. There are also, literally, bars everywhere and some even have cocktails (the level with the box seats of course). Come early for a drink and then get another during intermission. Wander around the sumptuous halls and lounge on red velvet couches while watching the elite (and plenty of the non-elite) rushing to the bathroom or for a glass of champagne. There is always something to see even if it’s not the thing you paid to see.
Opera is super weird and kind of annoying, but SF Opera is stepping it up
I will admit it, as much as I’m trying to be a proponent of the opera, I’m not even really sure I like it that much. It’s a form of singing and style of performance that takes some getting used to. Most of it is sung in a different language and even if it is in English, it’s nearly impossible to understand what they’re saying. And there’s not a lot of dancing, which you would get out of ballet, or great acting, which you would find in cinema or musicals. It’s all about that intense, high pitched singing. What’s cool though is that the SF Opera is trying to bring the art form to a wider audience. This year, under the direction of David Gockley, they premiered, The Secret Garden inspired by the children’s book, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and Dolores Claiborne, based on the Stephen King bestseller that I ate up when I was a teenager. If that’s not progressive enough, in recent years they co-produced the Ring Cycle, a feminist and environmental series of operas and The Bonesetter's Daughter, based on the book by Bay Area novelist, Amy Tan. There is something for everyone.
And if I still haven’t convinced you to go to the opera, just think of it as an expansion of your artistic and cultural repertoire. Because ultimately you never know where inspiration might come from.