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Two Tours of the Opera House - November 3, 2013 

Lori Harrison explains the armory at San Francisco War Memorial.  All the props, including fakes, are under lock and key and complete control.

This last trip to San Francisco, I finally got the opportunity to see some behind-the-scenes areas of the War Memorial Opera House.  The first tour was on Saturday afternoon and was part of the Out-of-Town Series season ticket holders.  About 12 of us met at the side entrance to the War Memorial (so named because the building was built with funds that honored veterans of World War I).  The tour director was quite informative and took us back stage to see the green rooms (functional but definitely not elaborate) costuming, the laundry, practice rooms (sound proof), and other areas generally off limits to the public. We also got to see the prompter chair that keeps everyone on track and in the proper position on the stage.  The guy that does the prompting actually demonstrated the controls for us.

A fascinating aspect of the laundry room is that it is run by one person with one assistant and they handle all the laundry for the opera season.  One trick he mentioned was to spray costumes that needed dry cleaning with a cheap vodka solution to prolong the times between dry cleaning.    The vodka absorbs the body odor. He demonstrated on the costume for Falstaff.  We also got to see where the cast makes up, the wig room, and where volunteers dress for performances.

The next tour on Sunday was sponsored by the Bel Canto society and was conducted by the Master of Properties (props), Lori Harrison.  She was excellent and took us backstage to her prop rooms, to the very top of the opera house where the curtains are between acts (6 stories up), and then back down into the bowels where we saw how the elevator systems in the house work.  She and her staff have small work spaces but from those pretty much outfit each opera.  The armory stores swords, pistols, and other implements of destruction and is under tight control and lock and key.  She took us on a tour of that space which is almost never done.  She also showed us the directors station which is completely computerized and connected to all stage hands.  Later, the Bel Canto society provided us with a small lunch just before curtain time for Falstaff. 

The opera house was also the location of the peace treaty for World War II was signed.  The cessation of hostilities was aboard the USS Missouri but the peace treaty was signed on the stage of the opera house.  In addition, it was one of several locations that the United Nations was created.  There are plaques in the house denoting each.  

© Fred Searcy 2017