Daily Alta California, November 1, 1864, San Francisco
Verdi at the Golden Gate
Opera and San Francisco in the Gold Rush Years
Opera flourished extravagantly in San Francisco during the Gold Rush years, a time when daily life in the city was filled with gambling, duels, murder, and suicide. In the history of the United States there has never been a rougher town than Gold Rush San Francisco; how did a madness for opera take root and grow? Why did the audience's generally drunken, brawling behavior gradually improve? How and why did Verdi emerge as the city's favorite composer? These are the intriguing themes of George Martin's meticulously researched history of operatic music as performed in San Francisco.
Among the incidents recounted are the fist fight that stopped an opera performance and ended in a fatal duel; and the brothel madam who, by sitting in the wrong row of a theater, caused a fracas that resulted in the formation of the Vigilantes of 1856. Martin weaves together meticulously gathered social, political, and musical facts to create this lively cultural history. His study contributes to the role of opera in cities during this time, especially in the American West.