Friday, November 27, 2015
A Hardhat Tour of SF Opera's New Digs
Last Monday, the San Francisco Opera offered a hardhat press tour of the fourth floor of the newly retrofitted Veterans Building, which will be their new office headquarters, their new costume shop replacing an old warehouse at 9th and Howard, their new Education Center complete with a beautiful skylit space, their new professional archives with public galleries, and a new 299-seat theater equipped with the latest Meyer Constellation sound system. (Pictured above left to right are Opera Communications Director Jon Finck, KQED radio journalist Cy Musiker, and SF Opera General Director David Gockley.)
Gockley explained the origin story of the project, beginning with a plan to build a $65 million annex to the back of the historic Veterans Building, which was scrapped due to money and time constraints. The War Memorial Board instead offered the opera company the basement and fourth floor to help bring their operations together that have been spread out in multiple locations throughout the city for decades. The project is costing about $21 million and will be completed at the end of this year under the direction of architect Mark Cavagnero above, responsible for the SFAZZ Center and the rebuilt Oakland Museum of California, among other projects.
Gockley is stepping down from his position this year after ten years, and he deserves gratitude for a host of initiatives, including steering the company out of a precarious financial situation through judicious cost-cutting, procuring a few multimillion dollar donations, and now consolidating the patchwork of SF Opera offices along with the Costume Shop. "If we had stayed on Ninth Street, the rent would have soon quadrupled. It's a bad time to be in the commercial real estate market in San Francisco, unless you're the owner."
The overall project is being called the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, after Ms. Wilsey spearheaded the project with a $5 million donation, and the new 299-seat theater will be named the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium for another pair of donors. Joining the hardhat tour were Helen and John Meyer above of Berkeley's Meyer Sound, which is transforming acoustics in concert halls all over the world.
The theater is being shared for six-month stints between the SF Opera Lab, headed by the young director Elkhanah Pulitzer above, and the War Memorial Performing Arts Center, represented by Jennifer Norris below right flanking SF Opera Education Director Ruth Nott, which means groups outside of the SF Opera will be able to use the space.
The SF Opera Lab will initiate the hall with the Schwabacher Debut Recital Series, followed by Matthias Goerne in a multimedia production by William Kentridge of Schubert's Winterreise. This will be followed by Svadba-Wedding, a 2011 Canadian a capella opera about a Serbian Wedding, a series of "cine-concerts" of the French animated movie The Triplets of Belleville with live musical performances by its composer-conductor Benoit Charest, chamber concerts with members of the SF Opera Orchestra and Adler singers, and a cabaret confessional called Voigt Lessons with soprano Deborah Voigt.
The Education Center atrium will also be rentable by groups outside the SF Opera, and the site is already looking to be a stunning addition to the neighborhood.
According to architect Cavagnero, there have been a series of pleasant surprises when uncovering walls and finding original scagliola pillars that were hidden from view during the fourth floor's incarnation as SFMOMA.
The new costume fitting space is a far cry from the dusty little alcoves at the Ninth Street Costume Shop, and the many light-filled offices for administrative staff look like they will be a dream to work in after decades of cramped little cubicles in the War Memorial Opera House and elsewhere.
In one section of the tour, Gockley made the offhand remark that "these offices will be for the Development staff which will soon be 200 people while the Artistic Planning staff will be whittled down to 3, if present trends continue."
Whatever the case, the place already looks like a marvel.