SF Opera to Open New Performance Venue

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The top floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building, home to a succession of artistic and civic institutions over the years, is about to undergo a striking transformation with the arrival of the San Francisco Opera.

The Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, slated to open in February, will include a 299-seat performance venue suitable for works of music theater too intimate or rarefied to be feasible in the War Memorial Opera House, as well as exhibition galleries, a new home for the company’s archives, and office space for some 130 Opera employees.

“The Wilsey Center is meant to serve as an incubator for new ideas, and to keep our audiences engaged while the (San Francisco) Ballet is in the Opera House,” General Director David Gockley said during a Monday press tour of the facility.

“The Wilsey Center is meant to serve as an incubator for new ideas, and to keep our audiences engaged while the (San Francisco) Ballet is in the Opera House,” General Director David Gockley said during a tour of the facility.

The initial performance schedule for the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater, which is fitted out with the increasingly popular Constellation acoustic system from Meyer Sound, will include a multimedia version of Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise” (March 11-13) designed by the visual artist and director William Kentridge and featuring baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser. Subsequent offerings will include “Svadba-Wedding,” a chamber opera by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic that premiered in 2011 in Toronto (April 2-10); a screening of the animated film “The Triplets of Belleville” with live musical accompaniment (April 14-23); and “Voigt Lessons” (May 6 & 8), a one-woman show created by soprano Deborah Voigt with playwright Terrence McNally and director Francesca Zambello.

The Schwabacher Debut Recital series, which begins Sunday, Feb. 28, will also move there from its longtime home at Temple Emanu-El. Tickets for all these events go on sale Tuesday, Dec. 1.

But in addition to the new programming it makes possible, which will be curated by stage director Elkhanah Pulitzer, the Wilsey Center represents an efficient overhaul for many of the Opera’s far-flung departments.

“When I first arrived in San Francisco,” Gockley said, “we were spread across seven different locations, and some of that was in very expensive commercial real estate.” In particular, he said, rent for the company’s longtime costume shop on Ninth St. was about to quadruple. Instead, many of the company’s departments, including development, education, costuming and more, will move into the new facility. The company’s scene shop has relocated to more economical facilities in Burlingame.

The 38,000-square-foot Wilsey Center encompasses both the performance space and administrative offices on the fourth floor — which has been home at various times to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Performing Arts Library and Museum, and the San Francisco Law Library — and new basement facilities for the company’s costume shop.

The $21 million renovation project was undertaken by the architectural firm of Mark Cavagnero Associates, whose other projects have included the SFJazz Center just a few blocks down Franklin Street. It promises to make ample use of natural light and the building’s high ceilings to create a space that is both broad and intimate.

Gockley, who is stepping down in July, pointed with special pride to the establishment of the Edward Paul Braby Archive, whose collection of photographs, papers, recordings and other memorabilia will be open to the public with an appointment.

See the original story and more photos here.

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