San Francisco Opera and War Memorial Opera House

The San Francisco Opera was established in 1923 by the Italian immigrant and conductor Gaetano Merola who arrived in opera-obsessed San Francisco in 1906. As early as the 1850s, the city’s new Italian population (mostly in North Beach) patronized opera and made San Francisco a major opera destination on the international performance circuit, which consisted of US and South American companies. San Francisco’s first opera event was held in 1851 and by 1914, the city hosted an Operatic Festival.


Merola had grand visions for an opera company and importantly, an opera house in San Francisco and it is through his fundraising and lobbying efforts that the War Memorial Opera House (dedicated to San Francisco residents who served in WWI) finally opened in 1932. The debut performance was Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca – take a look at the packed house that opening night, with a photo courtesy of SFPL’s San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.


Image Credit: Act I – “La Tosca”, Opening Performance, War memorial Opera House, October 15, 1932. From the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, SFPL