SFOpera - Backstage with Matthew - October 3

Backstage with Matthew - October 3

One of the things that most excites me about this art-form is the passionate connection that exists between the stage and the audience. The audience is an essential part of the artistic process and the energy that flows back and forth between stage and auditorium is what creates those performances of a lifetime!

I am in awe of the length of time people have dedicated themselves to SFO. People like Harriet Meyer Quarré, a beloved board member of 40 years who passed away recently and whose razor-sharp wit and passion for nurturing new opera goers deeply inspired me in the eleven years I was privileged to know her.

I am so proud that we have such profound associations in this Company. Did you know that we have 150 households who have been subscribing for 50+ years and another 430 who have been with us 40-50 years? We have similarly impressive figures in our employees. So many people hold the history of this Company in their hands. 

I was privileged to spend time last week with two subscribers who are celebrating 50 years with SFO: Marilyn Dunn from San Francisco, and Floyd Ross from Petaluma. We went on a backstage tour together after the last Red Chamber and I was thrilled to learn about their histories with SFO.

I love how people so vividly remember their first opera experiences—it says a great deal about the emotive power of opera! Marilyn had a childhood friend who, at around age 12, had sent the great soprano Renata Tebaldi a costume design in the mail. Ms. Tebaldi rewarded Marilyn’s friend with box seats at the Met and he took Marilyn with him to experience Tebaldi in Traviata! Floyd’s opera experiences began from the stage. As a student at Sonoma State he was working as a stagehand when he was called upon to stage manage an opera at the last minute. He delved deep into costume and set design and spent 39 years at Sonoma State teaching in and running the performing arts program.

Over 50 years with the Company, Marilyn and Floyd have both found opportunities to immerse themselves in the inner workings of the Opera. Floyd through his connections with Company members like Gerd Mairandres, our now-retired head of wig and make-up, Marilyn through taking grandchildren to education programs and tours of the costume shop. It’s wonderful to see people enriching their association with opera through backstage experiences like this. It was great to be backstage with them both, exploring the inner-workings of Red Chamber before it was taken down and packed up.

I was also inspired by both Floyd and Marilyn’s connections between opera and family. Early on, Floyd persuaded his mother to subscribe with him and they attended religiously together until his mother passed in 1992. Marilyn’s husband was not an opera fan, and they had a deal that he would attend football games on Sundays while she attended the opera. But he would join her when she traveled to see opera, and “not look at his watch!”

And then, the memories! In 50 years of opera-going, the memories of certain performances are as rich and vivid as though they’d seen the shows last week. Marilyn in tears at the end of Carmen with Domingo, so impactful was his performance; Floyd remembering the curtain rising at the top of Tristan revealing the statuesque Birgit Nilsson. I love hearing about people’s favorite moments at SFO and I encourage you to share yours with me. We have a great resource at archive.sfopera.com where you can dig deep into all of our past performances since 1923 and see who was singing, conducting and directing.

As we were saying goodbye, Floyd mentioned the recent release of the 2018 Ring casting. He said that he was having to choose between the SFO Ring and a trip to Wagner’s hallowed theater at Bayreuth, a trip that people can wait decades for. He said, with a wry grin, “I’ll see you back here in 2018.”

I’m so grateful to Marilyn, Floyd and all of you who have made SFO such a central part of your lives for years and decades. I’m so inspired by the depth of your connections.


PS: If you’ve not yet seen it, I wanted to share with you a great video short that KQED just released about J’Nai Bridges, our Bersi in Andrea Chénier and her life on the stage and the basketball court. It’s worth a look!

Backstage with Matthew - October 18
Backstage with Matthew - September 19