SFOpera - Backstage with Matthew: Rediscovering Opera

Backstage with Matthew: Rediscovering Opera

Dear Members of the San Francisco Opera Family,

When the curtain came down on our final Così fan tutte on December 3 there was an extraordinary sense of collective accomplishment. Not only did we bring to life a fabulous new production of Mozart’s opera, but we made it through our first fall season back—safely, joyously, and with an incredible sense of rediscovery on both sides of the curtain!

As the world reemerges from silence, we are finding opera as though for the first time. The crashing chords that open Tosca filled us with dread and foreboding as though we’d never heard them before. We luxuriated in every note of the quartet in Act I of Fidelio. And we held our collective breath while Ferrando sang of the hope of love in his Act I aria in Così. We were in an emotional synergy with 3,000 strangers. The anxieties of the world outside temporarily evaporated.

Backstage with MatthewAt the final curtain of our last Così fan tutte, bringing our first fall back to a glorious close.

Many times during the pandemic I would envision what it would be like to stand on the stage and welcome audiences back to the Opera House. I would stand on the empty stage in the empty building, close my eyes and imagine a set behind me and an orchestra and audience in front. I would try and envision the energy that happens when the circuit is completed between artists and audience. There was, sadly, no conjuring up that energy, only waiting for its return. But the reward for waiting has been the gift of rediscovery, of reclaiming the energy of coming together in collaborative art-making and art-enjoyment.

Backstage with MatthewEun Sun Kim taking the applause of an ecstatic house at our first performance back on August 21. (Photo credit Drew Altizer)

Whether in art or life, the reemergence from the silence of the last 18 months has been to experience the world in hyperreality. Colors are more vivid, emotions more extreme, music pierces deeper into the soul. My fervent hope is that this technicolor version of the world never dulls. There is a very special energy that is formed when an audience resonates with live opera. When everything clicks into place, there is a reciprocal, reverberating energy in the theater that grows and grows. It’s by no means a given. It’s what differentiates a good performance from a great performance, and in a great performance artists and audiences inspire each other to heightened excellence. While I may be biased, I truly felt that we experienced that energy in every performance this fall, and it felt glorious. Not only were we returning from silence, but we were doing so with a transformational new music director in Eun Sun Kim; with a season of insightful productions all built right here in the Bay Area; and with a company of spectacular patrons, artists, artisans, technicians, and staff building on a century’s worth legacy of excellence.

Backstage with MatthewA company of excellence. The sitzprobe for Fidelio, filling the hall with collective sound.

As I write this, our centennial brochure is already at the printer. We have locked in our 100th Season and will announce it on January 19. While so much of our fall has been bringing opera back to life safely, a huge part of the last few months has been finalizing the centennial season. A year ago, pre-vaccines, we had no idea what lay ahead. We were at that point contemplating a slimmed down, socially distanced centennial, living in hope that we could even perform. But as vaccines became reality, we reignited the idea of a bold, courageous, big season of opera that would stand tall in the stunning lineage of the Company. We surged into action, casting the operas, designing new productions, creating the visual identity for the season.

There have been moments, I will admit, that I have wished for more time between our reemergence and our centennial—time to prepare, to ready ourselves. But as the fall has gone on, I have come to see the timing of our centennial as the greatest of gifts. You, the family of San Francisco Opera, came together during the pandemic and gave so deeply of yourselves to keep the Company alive, connected, and engaged. What better way for us to celebrate the resilience of San Francisco Opera than through a celebratory season full of bold possibility, of exciting works, of new productions, of new operas? This Company was founded on bold ideals and it is our moment to reclaim those ideals as we turn the page on our second century.

Photo Credit: Kristen Loken
Eun Sun in an early rehearsal with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra on December 7 for a brand-new opera premiering in the Centennial Season! (Photo credit: Kristen Loken)

The energy of our return is a rallying cry to the boundless possibility of San Francisco Opera. A company of creators, of makers, of visionaries, of storytellers. A stage that can transform into any place in time and space and that draws us into stories of our very existence. I think back to the 1850s when this Gold Rush town was exploding with possibility, and the latest tunes from Verdi’s Ernani were being whistled in the local saloons. This town has always invited us to dream big. Now is the moment for that, and the vibrant energy of this fall season has shown us what is possible. I have never been more optimistic for what, together, we can create in San Francisco.

Backstage with MatthewA world of possibility. Peeking out to an expectant house on the evening of our first performance back, August 21.

Thank you for keeping the faith in our return these past two years. I hope that you have shared in my ecstatic joy at what we have, together, made possible this fall, and that you share in my excitement for what lies ahead. We are a part of something quite extraordinary.

With deepest gratitude and warmest holiday wishes,


P.S. I’m very happy to share with you my new holiday playlist on Spotify. Happy listening!

Backstage with MatthewThe theater back to life: high up in the fly tower during a rehearsal of Così fan tutte.

Backstage with Matthew: The Fine Detail of Fidelio