Backstage at San Francisco Opera > February 2012 > Opera on the Big Screen
Opera on the Big Screen
While Hollywood geared up for the Oscars this past weekend, we in the Education Department prepared for our own celebration of film: free screenings of Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West for Families at the Herbst Theatre! The movie was a shortened, one-hour version of the production that premiered at War Memorial Opera House in June 2010.

Our preparations perhaps weren’t as glamorous as trying out couture gowns, but there was still plenty to do to make sure everything went smoothly. In the weeks leading up to the screenings, we marshaled the forces of our department and the IT, Communications, and Marketing departments to get the word out about the screenings. Altogether we resembled a Hollywood publicist, contacting all the right media outlets so that the maximum amount of families could take advantage of the free screenings.

On the day of the screening, staff members and volunteers welcomed hundreds of families as they walked down the red carpet at the beautiful Herbst Theatre (there’s actually a red carpet in the lobby of the Herbst!). Our staff photographers were the San Francisco Opera paparazzi, snapping the candid shots you see here.

Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West has a lot of connections to classic movies. It’s based on a play by David Belasco, a San Francisco playwright whose works inspired more than 40 movies, including Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances. The silent film star Mary Pickford starred in several of his plays and Belasco purportedly created her stage name. Puccini’s opera premiered in New York in 1910, the same year that D.W. Griffith shot the first movie made in Hollywood, In Old California. [Above: Audience at the Herbst Theatre screening]
Above and beyond these connections, The Girl of the Golden West is also the original spaghetti western!  Beginning in the 1960’s Italian filmmakers explored the American West in such films as A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But it was Puccini, an opera composer, who first understood the dramatic tension inherent in the archetypes of the cruel sheriff, the reformed bandit, and the tough frontierswoman with a heart of gold. [Above: Ruth Nott, Director of Education, with screening attendees]

The families who attended the movie this past weekend thrilled to Puccini’s gorgeous melodies and the exciting action on the big screen, which included a saloon brawl, a Sierra snowstorm, a pivotal poker game, and even a real live horse. We saw lots of smiling faces in the audience and heard great reviews from patrons, many of whom were first-time opera-goers. It appears that this opera movie deserves its own golden statuette!    

We have more family movie screenings coming up on March 3rd and March 11th. Check out the details at and come celebrate opera movies with us! And if you’re an educator in the Bay Area and are interested in receiving a free DVD of The Girl of the Golden West to screen in your classroom, contact the Education Department at
Posted: 2/28/2012 12:48:12 PM by Dolores DeStefano (Education Program Associate)
Filed under: education, Puccini


Backstage at San Francisco Opera is a fascinating, fast-moving, mysterious and sacred space for the Company’s singers, musicians, dancers, technicians and production crews. Musical and staging rehearsals are on-going, scenery is loaded in and taken out, lighting cues are set, costumes and wigs are moved around and everything is made ready to receive the audience. From the principal singers, chorus and orchestra musicians to the creative teams for each opera, in addition to the many talented folks who don’t take a bow on stage, this blog offers unique insight, both thought-provoking and light-hearted, into the life backstage at San Francisco Opera.


Blog postsRSS