B1673. San Francisco Opera - 50 Seasons War Memorial Opera House - 40th Anniversary book. San Francisco Opera, 1972. 64pp. Profusely illus. w.numerous beautiful photos covering the years 1932-72. (Pictorial thick paper covers)
“The San Francisco Opera (SFO) is an American opera company was founded in 1923 by Gaetano Merola (1881–1953) and is the second largest opera company in North America.
The first performance given by San Francisco Opera was LA BOHÈME, with Queena Mario and Giovanni Martinelli, on 26 September 1923, in the city's Civic Auditorium and conducted by Merola, whose involvement in opera in the San Francisco Bay Area had been ongoing since his first visit in 1906.
Merola launched the company in 1922, convinced that the city could support a full-time opera organization and not depend upon visiting companies, which had been coming to the San Francisco since Gold Rush days. In fact, Merola's initial visits to the city were as conductor of some of these troupes—the first in 1909 with the International Opera Company of Montréal. Continued visits for the next decade convinced him that a San Francisco company was viable, and in 1921 he returned to live in the city under the patronage of Mrs. Oliver Stine.
By the fall of 1921 he was planning his first season, which was presented at Stanford University's football stadium on 3 June 1922 with a star-studded group of singers, including Giovanni Martinelli in PAGLIACCI, followed by CARMEN and FAUST. While it was a popular and critical triumph, the five-day season was not a financial success. It was clear to Merola that a more solid financial base was needed, so he set about fund raising for a season of opera to be presented at the Civic Auditorium in the fall of 1923. Appealing to more than the city's elite, Merola raised 2441 contributions of $50 each from many ‘founding members’.
During the nine years following the opening season, the War Memorial Opera House was conceived. The building was designed by Arthur Brown, Jr., the architect who also created San Francisco's Coit Tower and City Hall. The Company inaugurated the new opera house with a performance of TOSCA on 15 October 1932 with Claudia Muzio in the title role. Characteristic of the following thirty of Merola's years as general director was the fact (as noted by Chatfield-Taylor) that ‘the great singers of the world came regularly to San Francisco, often performing several roles in deference to the short season and long travel time across the country’.”