Let’s face it, those opening-night tickets to the San Francisco Opera’s 85th season-opener Friday are pricey, and the cost of receptions, dinners, dances and the parade of white ties and gowns is well beyond the means of most. But these social-artistic-fund-raising events all serve a vital purpose. Opera is the most expensive of all performing arts, and the money has to come from somewhere — especially as government subsidies are rarer than a reliable Wagnerian tenor. The pomp and circumstance support the Opera itself, along with the Opera Guild’s outreach programs.
Meanwhile, David Gockley’s company continues a tradition of many years: providing free opera opening weekend. Once again, on Sunday afternoon, Golden Gate Park will welcome some of the top singers of the season, the Opera Orchestra, and the thousands in the audience. That’s 1:30 p.m. in Sharon Meadow, and again, free, but you need to bring your own picnic basket.
If you want to see Saint-Saens’ grand romantic opera, “Samson and Delilah” (which opens the season Friday) for free, just wait a couple of weeks, and then take yourself out to the ballpark Sept. 28. That’s the Giants’ AT&T Park, where the big scoreboard will be used for a simulcast from the War Memorial Opera House. It’s free, but you should download a ticket from the Opera Web site.
» (415) 864-3330; www.sfopera.com
WAR MEMORIAL OPERA
As for performances inside the War Memorial, tickets range from the impossible-to-get $20 balcony side-seats to center orchestra for $225, and box seats for $275 (both top prices are made even more costly by requirements to donate). But there are options: rush tickets the day of the performance, $25 for students, $30 for seniors (over 65) and for the military. Anybody sturdy of leg may consider the $10 standing-room tickets: they go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance.
Recommendations for the most substantial and promising works this season: Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” with German tenor Peter Seiffert, Sept. 18 through Oct. 12; Verdi’s “Macbeth,” with baritone Thomas Hampson, Nov. 14 through Dec. 2; and Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress,” with bass James Morris, Nov. 23 through Dec. 9.
» (415) 864-3330; www.sfopera.com
A major international opera star, soprano Renée Fleming, will be across Grove Street for the San Francisco Symphony opening gala Sept. 19. During the fall season, especially notable events include: Kurt Masur conducting Prokofiev’s score for “Alexander Nevsky,” Oct. 18 through Oct. 21; and James Gaffigan conducting Lise del la Salle in the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2, and music by Mussorgsky, Chen Yi Si Ji, and Tchaikovsky, Oct. 31 through Nov. 2.
Also of special interest is the Nov. 4 concert by the hottest name and orchestra in the world today, Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar Orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, 26, and already the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music-director designate.
» (415) 864-6000 or www.sfsymphony.org
AT THE CONSERVATORY
The best (and least known) musical bargain in town comes in the form of the S.F. Conservatory of Music’s hundreds of concerts, most of them free, none expensive. The Conservatory’s concert hall is also available for rental, and it will be the venue for an event just announced: Chanticleer will celebrate its 30th birthday there, opening the new season Sept. 15, with “My Spirit Sang All Day,” a wide-ranging program from Byrd, Poulenc and Palestrina to Gabriela Lena Franks’ “Jalapeño Blues.”
There are more than 100 chamber-music groups in town, some of international standing. The Kronos Quartet, for example, is acclaimed wherever it performs around the globe, but its headquarters are right here, on Ninth Avenue. Now traveling from England to Brooklyn, the Kronos foursome will stop by in Herbst Theatre on Oct. 25-26, with a program that’s part of the 25th annual San Francisco Jazz Festival.
PHILIP GLASS BIRTHDAY
In addition to local talent, there are organizations here “importing” musicians from all over the world. Ruth Felt’s San Francisco Performances, for example, will present Philip Glass, in one of his 70th birthday celebration appearances, Sept. 28, in Herbst Theatre.
Meanwhile, Stanford Lively Arts opens its season Oct. 9 with the West Coast premiere of “Book of Longing,” a piece based on poetry and images by Leonard Cohen featuring music by Glass.
Back to S.F. Performances: In collaboration with San Francisco Symphony, the group also co-presents András Schiff in Sunday 7 p.m. concerts of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, on Oct. 7 and Oct. 14.
Fall arts preview
» Tuesday: Theater and dance
» Today: Classical and popular music
» Thursday: Visual arts and family events
» Friday: Movies