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Music and Politics in San FranciscoFrom the 1906 Quake to the Second World War$
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Leta Miller

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780520268913

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520268913.001.0001

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The People's Music or a Diversion for the Rich?

(p.131) 6 Opera
Music and Politics in San Francisco

Leta E. Miller

University of California Press

A December 24, 1910 concert constituted Luisa Tetrazzini's own donation to the city that had welcomed her ecstatically to the United States. The papers characterized her gratis performance as an indescribable, if ephemeral, Christmas present—a view she eagerly reinforced. Without financial benefit for herself (but with plenty of priceless national publicity), Tetrazzini thus presided over a populist musical outpouring unequalled at the time. She herself said she was singing “to the poor people of San Francisco[,] . . .for all . . . who cannot afford to buy tickets for my concerts.” Despite the idealistic commentary on Tetrazzini's egalitarian outdoor performance, opera's history generally presents a different picture. In San Francisco, as elsewhere, the rich found it an ideal opportunity to show off their latest gowns and exchange gossip with the rest of the smart set. The press encouraged such elitism; articles detailing the garb of the wealthy took up as much space as reviews of the music. In the view of many—though certainly not all—of these wealthy patrons, the music was less important than seeing and being seen.

Keywords:   opera, San Francisco, Luisa Tetrazzini, elitism

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