Benjamin Britten’s “Billy Budd” is the second production of San Francisco Opera’s 2019 fall season. (Courtesy Alastair Muir/Glyndebourne Festival)

Enjoy San Francisco Opera on a budget

2019 fall season offers nicely priced performances

Yes, opera is expensive. Paying for sets, costumes, singers, the orchestra — and more — takes deep pockets, making ticket prices high. Yet where there’s a will, there are ways.

San Francisco Opera’s 2019-20 season, the company’s 97th, opening Friday, offers five works in the fall: Charles Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” opens the season, followed by Benjamin Britten’s “Billy Budd,” Wolfgang A. Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” Giacomo Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.”

For these subscription performances and many auxiliary events, there are various economies. For example, tickets for seats high in the War Memorial Opera House balcony, where the sound is the best, are available at a signficantly lower price than those in the orchestra section. (Until recently, OperaVision big-screen projections provided a great view, too. But funds ran out for the service.)

For a patron who wants to attend the Sept. 12 performance of “Billy Budd,” orchestra center seats go for $256, and some some seats on the side sell for $82. Yet at the top of the second balcony, seats are just $26. And for those of sturdy legs, there is still the standing-room option, for $10.

Also, there are numerous programs to support attendance by students, seniors and the military. Rush tickets, of seats in various sections of the house, are available for $30 or $35; visit

The annual Opera in the Park, featuring singers performing selections from the fall season, is at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Robin Williams Meadow in Golden Gate Park, and it’s free.

Opera in the Ballpark is also free. A live simulcast of “Romeo and Juliet” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 in Oracle Park is available for those who walk-in — the ballpark opens at 5:30 p.m. — as well as for those who register in advance for a free seat in a reserved section.

Making this year’s Opera in the Ballpark special is the San Francisco Giants’ new, enormous Mitsubishi Electronic Diamond Vision Board — 71-foot high by 153-feet wide — onto which the action will be screened.

Live streaming of opera has a surprisingly old precedent in San Francisco. In 1932, the San Francisco Opera broadcast Lily Pons, one of the most popular divas of the time, singing the title role of “Lucia di Lamermoor” live from the new War Memorial Opera House, to the Civic Auditorium, the company’s former home (and temporary venue after the 1989 earthquake).

This year’s opening, the Gounod “Romeo and Juliet,” has other links with the past. It was featured on the company’s inaugural 1923 season, with such stars as Beniamino Gigli and Giuseppe De Luca; Ezio Pinza as Friar Lawrence was added in the 1927 revival.

An important production in the fall is “The Marriage of Figaro,” the first of San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock’s multi-season project to present Mozart’s three operas with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte in new productions by Michael Cavanagh, with sets by Erhard Rom.

Shilvock says the project offers a three-year arc of storytelling, “using the constant of ‘The Great American House’ as the place in which emotions, relationships and the very bonds of society are explored.” “The Marriage of Figaro” will be followed by “Cosi fan tutte” and “Don Giovanni” in subsequent seasons.

The fall season’s “family affair” is a new San Francisco Opera co-production with London’s Royal Opera of “Hansel and Gretel.” Featuring storybook sets by Antony McDonald and cameos by familiar fairy tale figures, the production also reunites three members of the 2017 “Elektra” cast: Michaela Martens as Gertrude, Alfred Walker as Peter and Robert Brubaker as the Witch.

Plácido Domingo’s sold-out Oct. 6 concert on the 50th anniversary of his company debut was canceled a month ago after multiple accusations of sexual harassment made news headlines.


San Francisco Opera 2019 Fall Season

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: Sept. 6 through Dec. 7

Tickets: $26 to $398

Contact: (415) 864-3330,

The productions

Romeo and Juliet: Sept. 6-Oct.1

Billy Budd: Sept. 7-22

The Marriage of Figaro: Oct. 11-Nov. 1

Manon Lescaut: Nov. 8-26

Hansel and Gretel: Nov. 15-Dec. 7

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