San Francisco Opera enjoys a vast recorded legacy. Throughout its history, the Company’s performances have been set into shellac grooves, punched into paper rolls, recorded onto wires or magnetic tape, converted into digital signals, and streamed over the internet to listeners around the world. This Centennial Season, San Francisco Opera is opening the vault and sharing a selection of preserved treasures from its first 100 years.
Company founder Gaetano Merola’s enthusiasm for emerging technologies ensured that San Francisco Opera was on the air in the early 1920s when radio was still in its infancy. Several performances from the 1930s were recorded off the airwaves and, beginning in the 1960s, new devices allowed even non-broadcast presentations to be preserved, sometimes surreptitiously. Still later, San Francisco Opera’s industry-pioneering Taube Media Suite allowed performances from 2007 onward to be captured in HD. Nearly 50 titles from that still-growing catalog of operas were streamed on-demand during the pandemic while the stage was otherwise dark, and the Media Suite will enable each production during the 2022–23 Season to be livestreamed and preserved.
Streaming the First Century features 25 precious audio artifacts from previous seasons to open a series of magical portals into the Company’s first 100 years, allowing us to experience, as if through time travel, the moments that touched the hearts of generations of audiences and continue to move us.
Guided by the repertory of the Centennial Season, four interactive sessions will be released, each including two complete San Francisco Opera performances (with synopses, rare photos, and original program articles), four excerpted operas (with text and translations), an array of archival artist interviews, and new conversations among San Francisco Opera artisans and administrators spanning the decades. Scholars, performers, and Company members introduce and provide insight into each audio document, opening new pathways of discovery and allowing all to listen through their experienced ears.
Released every four weeks, each new session of Streaming the First Century offers myriad pathways to stream your way through San Francisco Opera’s distinguished past. Expect to be surprised, thrilled, moved, and to marvel at the infinite agility and expressiveness of the human voice. Make your way down the rabbit hole and, with these beguiling voices and legendary performances still ringing in your ears, we hope your journey with San Francisco Opera continues well into the next century.
Jeffery McMillan and Barbara Rominski, Streaming the First Century co-editors