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San Francisco Opera Chorus
December 3, 2019
San Francisco Opera Chorus

Featuring works by Bach, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, Verdi, Amy Beach, Judith Weir, Clara Schumann, and Rodgers and Hammerstein


Comprised of 43 regular choristers — 21 men and 22 women — the San Francisco Opera Chorus is a consistent presence on the War Memorial Opera House stage, delivering acclaimed performances in such recent mainstage productions as Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd and Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet. The San Francisco Chronicle has praised the Chorus for its “knockout performances,” served up with “delicacy and verve.”

The San Francisco Opera Chorus has a history as long as the company itself, stretching back to the 1920s. Back then, the San Francisco Opera Association even maintained its own Chorus School, a “source of pride” to the company where members could receive paid training under the supervision of company founder Gaetano Merola.

Later, in 1981, the Chorus started to offer full-time employment to its core staff, a fact which coincided with San Francisco Opera expanding its fall season from 12 to 14 weeks. The Chorus would thereafter rehearse and perform for a minimum of 31 weeks per year, starting in mid-April and continuing through early December.

With the addition of extra chorus members, the group can swell to 100 choristers or more to fulfill the needs of large-scale operas. A 1991 film, In the Shadow of the Stars, profiled the lives of Chorus members, ultimately winning Best Documentary Feature at the 64th Academy Awards.


Chorus Director Ian Robertson joined San Francisco Opera in 1987 and has since prepared the Opera Chorus for over 300 productions. The Scotland native has also conducted several works for our stage, including Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Rigoletto, Turandot, and Lohengrin.

During his time here, Robertson has received several awards, including a prize from the Olivier Messiaen Foundation for his work on the 2002 American premiere of Saint François d’Assise and the company’s highest honor, the 2012 San Francisco Opera Medal, for his dedication and artistic vision. In 2019, Robertson stepped down as artistic director of the Grammy-winning San Francisco Boys Chorus, a role he had held since 1996.

Robertson is the 24th individual known to hold the title of chorus director or chorus master with San Francisco Opera. Previous chorus directors include the company’s second general director, Kurt Herbert Adler, and Antonio Dell’Orefice, nephew of the Italian opera composer Giuseppe Dell’Orefice.

Robertson has held the longest tenure of any chorus director with the company. He has spent 33 seasons in the chorus director title.