Backstage at San Francisco Opera > May 2014 > How it All Began: Nine Years of San Francisco Opera Simulcasts
How it All Began: Nine Years of San Francisco Opera Simulcasts
On Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 8 p.m., we're heading back to San Francisco's stunning AT&T ballpark for a free live simulcast of Verdi’s La Traviata. On a recent sunny afternoon, La Traviata cast member Zanda Švēde and San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford met at the ballpark for a fun promotional photo shoot. The two donned their respective attire—Zanda in her Flora costume and Brandon in his Giants uniform—and posed for cameras on the field and in the Giants’ dugout at AT&T Park. The photos highlight the lasting partnership of two iconic San Francisco institutions—the San Francisco Giants and San Francisco Opera. We just couldn't be happier to be joining together again to bring this unique free community event to the Bay Area. We've been able to bring world class opera to nearly 197,000 people through our free live simulcasts these last nine years. Let's take a look back at how it all started, shall we?

San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford and mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde get in the spirit posing in their respective professional attire at AT&T Park.
Free live simulcasts are one of the very first innovations General Director David Gockley implemented at the beginning of his tenure at San Francisco Opera. The first SF Opera simulcast, in May 2006, we actually called a "plazacast" because it took place in Civic Center plaza with a projection screen hung outside of City Hall. We were overwhelmed by the 8,000 people who turned out to hear opera al fresco! As a special treat, our Cio-Cio-San, Patricia Racette, crossed Van Ness Avenue after her performance to take a bow in person for the outdoor audiece.

In October 2006 we decided to expand on a good idea. We simulcast Rigoletto to Civic Center Plaza (on an admittedly chilly evening)...

...and also to Frost Amphitheater at Stanford University.

In June 2007 we thought we'd try bringing simulcasts indoors and live-streamed Don Giovanni to four locations at once! Audiences got to watch the Don as he seduced one unsuspecting gal after another simultaneously at Cal Performances, UC Berkeley; the Mondavi Center, UC Davis; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco and the Wells Fargo Center, Santa Rosa. This thing was really starting to take off!

In September 2007 a genius idea was born. Where in San Francisco can we accommodate even more fans to enjoy free opera outdoors? Facilities are required. A high quality screen is needed. Staff is needed. Sound equipment is needed. Seating is needed! Someone suggested San Francisco's AT&T Park, the stunning home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team.

And it was a really good idea.

San Francisco Opera's first simulcast to AT&T Park was Saint-Saëns’s Samson and Delilah. 15,000 people turned out that evening and a lasting relationship between two San Francisco institutions was born. Baseball and opera, together forever. Opera at the Ballpark we christened it.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then we really have nothing to say about the June 2008 Opera at the Ballpark simulcast of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor starring Natalie Dessay.
Okay, we will say one thing: a crowd of 23,000 people enjoyed opera together that night. 23,000!

And the numbers just kept growing! 27,000 at the June 2009 simulcast of Tosca.
In September 2009, Verdi's Il Trovatore echoed from Willie Mays Plaza to McCovey Cove.
In September 2010 we took a chance and decided to open the upper deck of AT&T Park seating in order to accommodate the anticipated crowds. This required quite a feat of sound engineering in order to distribute quality sound in real time to such a large area of people spread throughout the park. The the extra time and effort was worth it though...
...because we really needed the space! Our record-breaking attendance number was set that evening at 32,000. That evening's performance of Aida was truly triumphal.
In September 2011, due to tricky scheduling we decided to try out hosting a daytime Opera at the Ballpark. Because of the earlier schedule we decided to reach out to families and children to bring what had become a beloved San Francisco tradition to a wider variety of age groups. We added interactive activities like crafts and face painting to expand the festivities.

The cast of Puccini's Turandot also got in on the fun!
In September 2012, we were back to our usual evening setting for our season-opening production of Verdi's Rigoletto.
Before the performance and during intermission we got the audience involved by streaming live tweets on the score board. What fun to see what the fans had to say about their experience!

We partnered up with Stanford University once again in October 2013 for a simulcast of Falstaff at Frost Amphitheater, and now nine months later we are ready for our twefth-ever free live simulcast, and our eighth at AT&T Park!
To say that we're excited to be back with yet another free live opera simulcast at AT&T Park on Saturday July 5 would be an understatement. We're ecstatic! So mark your calendars and plan to be a part of an only-in-San Francisco event. For more information and to register for priority entrance, visit

Photo credits from top: Scott Wall, Drew Altizer, Drew Altizer, Scott Wall, Steve Fish, Terrence McCarthy, Terrence McCarthy, Edgar Lee, Kristen Loken, Edgar Lee, Pat Johnson, Cory Weaver, Cory Weaver, Linda Manyisha, Linda Manyisha, Cory Weaver, Cory Weaver, Scott Wall]
Posted: 5/8/2014 12:01:27 PM by San Francisco Opera
Filed under: 2013-14Season, SFOHistory, simulcast, Traviata


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.


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