In 1939, twelve women joined together to raise funds for opera education and to support San Francisco Opera. Today, San Francisco Opera Guild is a vibrant organization of more than 1,000 dedicated Board directors, Chapter members, staff and volunteers. Our award-winning opera education and community engagement programs have reached millions of children and adults across Northern California. 

Hear from our directors

Our board members share memorable moments on everything from costuming school shows to putting on talk-of-the-town events.


80th Anniversary (1939-2019)

In 2014 we celebrated our 75th anniversary. Watch a video commemorating the occasion.

Download our 75th Anniversary Book to learn about our history, milestones and the lives we've touched.

Our Story


Children at a Student Matinee

Service men at the opera

1939: Opera Guild is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation on January 19.

1939: Student Matinees begin. Tickets to Madama Butterfly are made available to students for 50 cents apiece. The Guild continues to sponsor Student Matinees through 1995.

1941: Opera Ball is inaugurated.

1942–1945: Guild suspends its Student Matinees during World War II, instead using funds to provide 55-cent opera tickets to US Armed Services personnel on leave in San Francisco.

1945: After a hiatus during the war, Opera Ball is reinstated as a gala Victory Ball.


Lily Pons performs at Fol de Rol, 1950

Children attend the Talent Bank production of Dr. Miracle, 1958

Frank Sinatra, Mrs. Richard Walker, and Kurt Adler, 1965

1950: $6,000 is donated by the Guild to San Francisco Opera. The funds are used to pay for sets for Parsifal.

1950: Fol de Rol takes place and marks the beginning of a 42-year tradition. The playful and whimsical evenings feature top operatic singers and big-name show business entertainers.

1958: The Guild's Talent Bank is formed to produce traveling opera-theater for communities throughout Northern California.

1963: The Guild hosts a champagne reception for its members and the cast of La Traviata following the dress rehearsal.


Golden Girl dancers at Fol de Rol for a Golden Season, 1972

Children arrive at the 100th Student Matinee, 1973

Upper: Cookbook editor Donna Miller Casey. Lower: Kurt Adler prepares to taste-test his recipe submission of Vanillekipferl, 1976.

1970: The Opera Preview lecture series begins.

1972: The kick-off party for the Guild's fundraising drive to commemorate San Francisco Opera's golden anniversary raises $30,000.

1972: Fol de Rol for the Golden Season features Beverly Sills, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and more.

1973: The Guild celebrates its 100th Student Matinee, having reached 325,000 students since 1939.

1973: The Guild begins offering Backstage Tours of the Opera House.

1976: The Guild publishes a cookbook titled What Aria Cooking?

1978–1979: East Bay, Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma County Chapters of the Opera Guild are founded.

1979: Allen Hillebrandt is hired as the Opera Guild's first executive director.


Operatunities L'Elisir d'Amore at McAteer High School, 1984

"George and the Gilded Lilies," 1985

John Denver and Placido Domingo sing a duet at Fol de Rol, 1981

1980: The Operatunities program is created, giving junior high and high school students first-hand experience producing and performing in an opera.

1980: Insight Panels are initiated.

1982: The Guild begins producing an annual publication about the current opera season. A benefit of Guild membership, the publications were the most comprehensive works of their type. Later created with San Francisco Opera, these publications continue until 2006.

1984: The Sail Away party cruise takes Guild members on an all-night cruise past the Farallon Islands and back.

1985: San Francisco Opera's stage hands invite the Opera Guild to participate in entertainment for their end-of-season crab feed. George F. Lucas heads up a soft-shoe number called "George and the Gilded Lilies."

1986–1987: The Guild is honored for an unprecedented two consectuive years by Opera Guilds International with its highest award for innovation and excellence in education programs.

1986: The first of fourteen "Opera Attic" Rummage Sales takes place.

1988: The Guild's 50th Anniversary is celebrated with three spectacular, sold-out events taking place in two months: Opera Ball, a second gala evening of dining and dancing at the Nordstrom store, and Fol de Rol, headlined by Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Marcovicci and Rosemary Clooney, with Frank Sinatra as Master of Ceremonies.

1989: After years of development, our signature Opera à la Carte education program begins touring.


Opera à la Carte Coordinator Ellen Kerrigan with a student performing Daughter of the Regiment, 1993

Revelers at the Amadeus Ball, 1991

Parade Walk Float

1990: The Guild begins an Endowment Fund (now called Education Fund). The fund was formally established in 1995.

1990: The Guild and San Francisco Opera collaborate to present a concert headlined by Placido Domingo with soprano Ann Panagulias at the Civic Auditorium.

1991: The Amadeus Ball is held in honor of Mozart's bicentennial. The masked ball was the opening event of San Francisco Opera's "Season of Mozart."

1991: The first of three annual Parade Walks is introduced. A prelude to Opera in the Park later in the afternoon, the walks featured nine floats with music, each representing one of the operas from the fall season.

1992: The final Fol de Rol, Celebrate America, is presented. Dudley Moore headlines the entertainment.

1994: Informal modeling of the Yves Saint Laurent spring collection at the Guild's Annual Scholarship Luncheon is the first of many fashion shows presented by the Guild.

1996: The Student Dress Rehearsal program replaces Student Matinees.

1997: The Opera House reopens after being closed for 18 months for seismic retrofitting and repairs. Opera Ball celebrates both the reopening of the Opera House and the Opera's 75th Anniversary. Revenues set a new record.


Students participating in Sing a Story

Lotfi Mansouri, Patricia Sprincin, Placido Domingo and Jackie Shinefield, co-chairman of A Tribute to Placido Domingo, 2000 (photo by Tom Gibbons)

Students participating in Summer Conservatory

2000: A Tribute to Placido Domingo is such a success that the Guild's donation to the San Francisco Opera is doubled this year.

2001: Sing a Story, for grades K–3, is piloted. The following year it receives the Opera Volunteers International Resource Competition Award.

2005: Opera à la Carte completes its seven-opera repertoire cycle with a new production of Pirates of Penzance.

2006: David Gockley is welcomed as the new General Director of San Francisco Opera at the Guild's black-tie Director's Ball, featuring Patricia Racette.

2006: Susan Malott begins her ongoing tenure as Managing Director, and the Guild hires Caroline Altman as its first full-time Education Director. Caroline's first new program is Summer Conservatory.

2008: The compositional residency program Book to Bravo! is developed.

2009: Music Director Nicola Luisotti's inaugural season opening night is celebrated at Opera Ball.


Students participating in Voices for Social Justice

David Gockley and Charlotte Mailliard Shultz at the Holiday Dinner on the Opera House Stage, 2013 (photo by Drew Altizer)

2010: Voices for Social Justice, a residency program for grades 4–12, is developed.

2010: Vice-President of Marketing Virginia Cartwright Ziegler launches an integrated marketing and communications plan. The Guild is re-branded under the tagline "Giving Voice to Potential."

2010–2011: The Guild creates a new strategic plan and updates its mission statement.

2013: The Guild partners with Neiman Marcus to present The Art of Fashion: Jason Wu at San Francisco City Hall.

2013: Holiday Dinner on the Opera House Stage, honoring Charlotte Mailliard Shultz, is the first of several annual holiday events on the stage.

2014: The Guild celebrates its 75th Anniversary with events and activities scheduled throughout the year, including the creation of a commemorative book.

2016: New San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock is welcomed with the Nod to Mod Ball, celebrating his British heritage.

2016: A thematic look at education programming is introduced with the Year of Compassion, highlighted with the anti-bullying operatic presentation "How Andy Found His Voice" at the Herbst Theatre. Our Opera Scouts program for teens ages 12-18 is launched.

2017: The Year of Cultural Understanding is the theme and focus of our education programs, and Spanish/English versions of our Book to Bravo!, Voices for Social Justice, and Sing a Story programs are introduced. Our annual holiday family opera "Lucinda y las Flores de la Nochebuena" is first produced.

2018: The Year of the Hero is launched and The Hero Project culminates in the Hero Festival in the Herbst Theatre in March 2019. The Opera Scouts embark on a European trip with our Italia (in)canta program and travel to Rome, Florence, and Venice to sing and learn more about the birthplace of opera.  

2019: San Francisco Opera Guild celebrates our 80th Anniversary! The Year of Reflection is launched as well as the Madrigals program for students ages 7-11.

2020: Opera Scouts prepare for the Austria Adventure coming this March! 

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Questions? Contact us at (415) 565-3291 or [email protected].