Take Me Out To The Opera

San Francisco Opera’s Opera in the Ballpark event is one of the best things about living in San Francisco. I’ve been to every single simulcast, which the company presents once a year at the Giants’ home stadium on the waterfront to tens of thousands of people for free. And it’s always a memorable evening.

This year’s offering — Rigoletto — will stand out for me for a few reasons.

Ok, so I don’t much care for the grandiose nineteenth century Italian operatic warhorses. But this year, I decided for the first time to see the production twice: I experienced Verdi’s chef d’oeuvre from the comfort of an orchestra seat on opening night a couple of weeks ago in a Michael Kors cocktail dress and Prada heels, and then this past weekend on the baseball diamond in jeans and sneakers surrounded by friends and a copious picnic. I far preferred the ballpark version to that of the opera house, even though it was freezing on the field and the experience was mediated by a large screen and a blaring PA system.

In the opera house, I was of course able to hear the spectacular voices of the performers more cleanly and closely as well as the lushness of the orchestra’s playing. Zeljko Lucic (Rigoletto), Aleksandra Kurzak (Gilda) and Francesco Demuro (The Duke of Mantua) are all breathtaking in their roles.

Yet the warmth and beauty of the cast’s vocal performances came across amply in the ballpark. And the great advantage for the outdoor audience is being able to see the singer-actors’ faces and bodies up close. This simply isn’t possible indoors. Even from the orchestra seats, you can’t get a clear view of what’s going on on the acting front on stage.

Plus, there’s something effortlessly warm and deeply communal about sitting on the grass with some 20,000 other people sharing food, wine and a great opera. The crowds on the diamond and in the stands clap and holler and gasp and laugh. There’s freedom to move around. There’s also a much greater diversity of audience members at the ballpark and it’s particularly wonderful to see so many kids gazing up at the screen.

Another thing I love about Opera in the Ballpark is the competition that KDFC runs every year to find a singer for the National Anthem at the start of the show. This year, the local classical radio station received some 70 entries. The winner was a Barbershop Quartet. They sang a tuneful yet harmonically quirky arrangement of the song and the crowd loved it.

I think more cities should follow the San Francisco Opera’s lead. Opera in the Ballpark is one of the most truly transformative arts experiences around.

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  1. says

    Yes, more cities should follow San Francisco’s lead, but there are only about 6 cities in the USA that have opera houses. Most other cities have paltry seasons, if any opera at all. They work with pickup musicians in often poorly suited rental facilities. The effects are all too often rinky-dink. The experience of a video projection in a ball park would probably not be the same. Germany, by contrast, with one quarter the population has 83 opera houses.

  2. Jessica Weissman says

    Washington DC also does Opera at the Park – this year it’s Don Giovanni at the Nats park.

  3. Nate says

    Was at the Opera House for the 2010 simulcast of Aida, but was at AT&T Park for Rigoletto this year, and I just can’t say enough about the great atmosphere at the ballpark! The event is well planned and you really don’t lose a whole lot of detail (I agree about the benefits I seein the singers I the screen up close). There is also a great social media tie in with the #RigoSF dedicated hash tag. Kudos SF Opera! Go Giants!

  4. says

    This article made me smile. I work in marketing for a music school and opera and ballet theater. One of the challenges we face is showing the “new” audience that opera is accessible for everyone. I love that there was a difference in attire, but still opera was being enjoyed. Events like these prove that innovative ideas can make a difference. I agree with one of the comments that it is sometimes hard for all opera companies to be this innovative because of the lack of resources available. I do think that something similar like this should occur every year for an opera company. We need to be able to show that opera, like any art form, can be enjoyed not just by the rich, and one can relate to the different stories.

    • says

      US military spending for 2012 is approximately 1.2 trillion dollars. See:


      One percent of our military spending is 12 billion dollars. That one percent of the military budget could fund 120 opera companies at 100 million dollars apiece. A subvention that size could easily create world-class companies. Remember, that’s just 1% of the military budget.

      Per capita European military spending is a tiny fraction of that in the USA. That is one reason why their governments give so much more money to the arts and why they average around 30 times more opera performances per capita.

      The Project On Government Oversight has identified about 700 billion in wasteful defense spending. See:


      Imagine what 700 billion would do if applied to the arts, our schools, and the squalor of our urban environments. Up to 60,000 people have gathered in Central Park for the Met’s free concerts there. Americans would love opera if given the chance to really experience it.

  5. says

    Hi Chloe! I’m glad you had a great time at the Ballpark! I did too! I love the combination of drinking a beer, eating a hot dog and watching opera! So you know, SF Opera does provide another opportunity to see close-ups of performers for some performances of each opera: OperaVision in the Balcony. It’s GREAT!

    • says

      It’s nice to hear from Ruth Nott, the Education Director for the San Francisco Opera. Her task must be difficult at times. America only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. One of the three is San Francisco (metro pop. 7.4 million) which limps in at the 74th position. It is far outranked by little European cities with a tiny fraction of the population like Luebeck at 24th with a pop. of 213,000 or Erfurt at 33rd with a pop. of 200,000. Even tiny little Innsbruck is at 32nd with a pop. of 118,000 and thus outranks San Francisco by 42 positions.

      Why do our handful of major companies remain so silent about facts like these? Why do we never mention that all major companies in Europe work year-round while San Francisco barely has a 6 months season? Wouldn’t our poor world standing in number of performances per capita be an important topic of education? How can we solve this problem if we refuse discuss it – much less educate people about it?

      If our cultural lives were equal to the rest of the developed world, we wouldn’t need to watch opera –the most visceral of all art forms– on video screens in ball parks with the sound coming out of PA speakers. Nor would we need to watch it in cinemas. These trends are in reality a measure of our cultural poverty.