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Patrons of the arts, Burners, collectors and drag queens rejoice—the San Francisco Opera is having a sale!

For the first time in six years — and the first time ever virtually  — the San Francisco Opera will host an online costume sale this weekend, today-Sunday, offering more than 500 items of adult and child ensembles from works like Franz Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” (2001), Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus” (1990, 1996, 2006) and Richard Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” (2007), to benefit the cast and crew of the War Memorial Opera House. Since closing in March, the Opera has not held a single performance, canceling both the summer and fall seasons. 

“This was going to be an extraordinary fall season!”, says Opera general director Matthew Shilvock via email. The Opera had planned productions of Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” Mozart’s “Così fan tutte,” and in a contemporary twist, an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” All three are new to the SF Opera stage, and signal a shift reflecting the opera’s new mission statement “to crack the code on producing big art in the 21st century,” which entails attempting  “big experiments – experiments that speak to the very nature of theatrical production, of how we share art, of the stories we tell, of what it means to express oneself in song.”

The sale, which directly facilitates rescheduling these works, begins at 12 p.m. Friday, and ends 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. Some outfits come with feathered hats, others with chain mail. Unlike previous sales, patrons can’t purchase individual items or accessories, and the estimated range for an outfit can go as high as $1,000.

Jai Alltizer, the costume shop manager, was sad to part with many of them. The “extravagant” silhouettes and painterly inspirations are just as important as performance in conveying a story.  

“Costumes, and clothing in general, are an outward expression of a character’s personality, emotion and history,” says Alltizer via email. “So much time and energy are poured into making great costumes, they should be seen, worn and enjoyed for many years.”

Alltizer also recommends storing any purchased costume on a sturdy hanger in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. 

Costume designer Thierry Bosquet’s sketch of the Act I costume for the title role of “The Merry Widow.” (©San Francisco Opera)

As we await the verdict on a live 2021 season, patrons hankering for an aria have options. While browsing the SF Opera’s hundreds of robes, tights and tunics, you can also tune into its Opera Is ON streaming series to watch previously recorded works every weekend. Fans of Fort Mason’s recent outdoor movies can also catch screenings of select works on Nov. 20 and 22, and on Dec. 11 and 12. A behind-the-scenes special broadcast, titled Celebrating Voices in the SF Opera, is scheduled for Dec. 4. Shilvock is ready for the new year. 

“I was standing on the stage of the Opera House on Monday, and felt the intensity of all the stories waiting to be told,” he writes. “We are a company that tells the stories of human emotion, and we will find ways to do that, whatever the parameters are.”