5 Reasons Why SF Opera Lab Should be on Your Bucket List this Spring

Last year, the San Francisco Opera started a new series called SF Opera Lab. Why is it called “Lab”? Because the Taube Atrium Theater (in the Veterans building) was created to experiment and make new music in unique and innovative ways. If you went last year, you probably fell in love with its intimate setting, outstanding acoustics, new operatic works and cup holders for your favorite glass of wine or cocktail! This casual environment makes it fun for a newcomer and fresh for a regular opera-goer.

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Recently I had the opportunity to take an exclusive tour of the venue with Sean Waugh, the Artistic Planning Manager who helps oversee this exciting new series. During our walk-through, I discovered hidden gems around the venue and got the inside scoop on the second season of concerts. Scroll below to see five reasons why you should put this unique experience on your Bucket List this spring.

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1) The SF Opera Lab Stage is ever-changing. This theater is truly unique because the audience is placed in different configurations that are built around each experiential performance. One night there will be risers that will look down on the stage and the next there will be chairs (and even tables!) around a circular stage that’s placed in the middle of the room. No experience is the same!

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2) This theater has historical landmarks at every turn. In 1935, SFMoma began its legacy in this great space where they housed the first west coast collection that was solely made up of modern and contemporary art. This room use to be SFMoma’s Sculpture Garden and if you look around the rim of the theater, you’ll see the original engravings of artists’ names in every corner. There are also other historical landmarks that are found around the building. Like the murals on the second floor that were brought from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915.

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3) The four gray walls of the theater turn into vibrant projection screens. One of my favorite concerts last year was watching the Academy Award-nominated film, Les Triplets de Belleville. The music was stripped away and a live ensemble (with singers!) performed along to the animations that were projected in front of us. These visual highlights bring movement to every piece and the audience is taken on a musical journey through color and an array of settings.

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4) An archives gallery surrounds the theater. On the outside walls of the venue there is a photo gallery of San Francisco Opera’s most memorable moments. My favorite is a snapshot of their first performance that dates back to 1923. In October I had the honor of touring this gallery with Christopher Verdosci who worked with the company for fifteen years as their Assistant Costume Director. Click here to see more!

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5) This experience even pops up outside of the theater and around the city! The SF Opera Lab Pop-Ups happen in places (AKA: bars and clubs) where you would never expect to see opera. Last year they held performances at Public Works SF, The Chapel, and even Oasis! From incredible arias to duets and love songs, these casually dressed performers sang passionately with one hand while holding a cocktail in the other. Click here to read more.

The SF Opera Lab series is made up of 4 different concerts and will run from February 24 – April 27th. Personally, I’m excited for the ChamberWorks Concert that will feature the musicians of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and The Source that is supposed to be very interactive and set in a unique arrangement for the audience.

Other Fun Facts:

  • Ticket prices start at $25!
  • The incredible Meyer Sound Constellation is run by a simple iPad
  • The first concert of the season, The Source is about Wikileaks and what Channing Manning exposed in 2010
  • There are 299 seats in the standard set-up, making every seat a GOOD seat
  • The next SF Opera Lab Pop-Up will be announced very soon…
  • The Taube Atrium Theater is located on the fourth floor of the Veteran’s Building
  • Roomful of Teeth is a West Coast premiere of four new works based on Shakespeare

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I hope to see you at one of the concerts! Make sure to follow my adventures on Instagram and like my blog to receive updates about new posts.

Opera Hair and Makeup Tutorial

It’s all in the details! I’m not talking about the thousands of notes that go into every opera production. I’m talking about all the work that goes into styling each performer to make their character believable and help make their story come to life. This summer the San Francisco Opera is presenting La Bohème and I got to go backstage in the dressing rooms and get a tutorial on Mimi’s hair and makeup with expert stylists, Jeanna Parham and Ashley Joyce.

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To give you a background on Mimi’s story; she is a seamstress who lives next door to the main character in La Bohème, Rodolfo who is a poet. When she knocks on his door and asks for him to light her candle, they instantly fall in love – love at first sight!

(You may be familiar with the Broadway hit RENT!! Yes, this is the original Rent and the inspiration behind the famous song “Light My Candle“.)

Mimi is sick with tuberculosis. The two are very poor and can not afford medicine so her sickness becomes worse as the story continues. Rodolfo feels so guilty about not being able to provide her with the proper medicine that he leaves her out of fake jealousy so that she will find a wealthier suitor. Will they end up back together? Will she live? Well, my friend, that is for me to know and for you to find out at the San Francisco Opera this summer.

Now on to the tutorial…

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When I walked in the door of the dressing rooms, I was greeted with a full spread of makeup brushes, lipsticks, rouges, and eyeshadows. A lot of their products were from MAC – a personal favorite! I was surprised to find out that the San Francisco Opera stylists personalize makeup kits for every singer and chorus member, even the men. That’s a lot of makeup!

They started off the transformation by pinning up my hair in tiny pin-curls and then putting a net over my hair to keep it out of my face. Next, they began to do a base layer with a primer and powders to shape my face and get “the canvas” ready for all the colors!

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The most expressive parts of the face are the eyes and the mouth, so to emphasize the drama and the character’s mood they highlight these features with shadows and liners. The way the artists looks in the dressing room is different from how they look under the stage lights so Ashely and Jeanna watch the dress rehearsals to make sure each performers makeup and wig are accentuated from the audiences’ point of view.

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With dark crease lines on my eyelids, filled in eyebrows and eyelash extensions, my eyes were starting to POP! To continue this bold look, Ashely lined my lips with a darker lip liner so that my mouth would be easily seen, even from the balcony. She then filled in my lip color with a lighter tone to create contrast. Lip gloss is not typically used in opera because it reflects too much light from the stage and is not appropriate for La Bohème’s time period.

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To finish off the look, they revealed this fabulous wig (made by Jeanna) that was hand tied with real hair. I was shocked to hear that each wig takes up to forty to sixty hours to make! That’s two and a half FULL days of work… for ONE wig. Nuts. When they placed the wig on my head, the complete vision of Mimi came to life. To keep the wig from coming off, they used bobby pins to secure the wig onto my pin-curls. Sometimes, performers will even wear a mic that’s tucked in their wig that can hardly be seen at the top of forehead.

I had so much fun becoming Mimi and being styled by the expert stylists Ashely and Jeanna. If you’d like to watch the full transformation that was entirely filmed on Facebook Live, click here!

To see some more of my backstage experiences, click here. To claim your tickets to San Francisco Opera’s summer performance of La Bohème, click here.