San Francisco Opera is the second largest opera company in North America. Gaetano Merola and Kurt Herbert Adler were the Company’s first two general directors. Merola led the Company from its founding in 1923 until his death in 1953; Adler was in charge from 1953 through 1981.
Legendary for both their conducting and managerial skills, the two leaders established a formidable institution that is internationally recognized as one of the top opera companies in the world—heralded for its first-rate productions and roster of international opera stars. Following Adler’s tenure, the Company was headed by three visionary leaders: Terence A. McEwen (1982–1988), Lotfi Mansouri (1988–2001), and Pamela Rosenberg (2001–2005). Originally presented over two weeks, the Company’s season now contains approximately seventy-five performances of ten operas between September and July. San Francisco Opera celebrated the 75th anniversary of its performing home, the War Memorial Opera House, in 2007 . The venerable beaux arts building was inaugurated on October 15, 1932 and holds the distinction of being the first American opera house that was not built by and for a small group of wealthy patrons; the funding came thanks to a group of private citizens who encouraged thousands of San Franciscans to subscribe. The War Memorial currently welcomes some 500,000 patrons annually.