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Tips for enjoying your first Nutcracker ballet performance

December 19, 2013

SFBallet_SnowQueenPhoto credit: SF Ballet

We went to see our very first Nutcracker Ballet performance at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco last night and had a wonderful time. The San Francisco Ballet Company puts up a spectacular show! Exquisite dance performances by talented and gloriously costumed ballet dancers, gorgeous sets and colorful props all make for a delightful experience. Here are some tips for enjoying your first opera whether it’s the Nutcracker or another classic:

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker(© Erik Tomasson)Photo credit: SF Ballet

1. Opera Glasses / Binoculars

I love my Bushnell Powerview Compact Folding Binoculars. They are superbly compact and with 8X magnification, they brought the stage to life. I would highly recommend getting these if you don’t already own binoculars or opera glasses. I got these specially for Nutcracker and was delighted at what a crisp and bright view I could see through them. I was able to get a closeup view of the dancers, their gorgeous costumes, their footwork, their expressions, the synchronized ballet moves and the stage props extremely well. Having a good pair of binoculars really makes a difference in how much you will enjoy the performance. The 8X21 Bushnell binoculars costs $12 on Amazon and believe me, they are worth every penny!

Lobby_WarMemorialOperaHouseIn the lobby of War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

2. Dress up! 

Not because you might be denied entry if you show up in shorts or jeans and a tshirt, but because you will likely be one of the very few who have come casually dressed. The opera is one event to dress up for, but that doesn’t mean you need to primp and preen for hours in front of the mirror. A nice dress for the ladies and a sharp suit for the gentlemen will make a world of difference to how you feel when you go to the opera.

WarMemorialOperaHouseStageGilded interiors and the stage at War Memorial Opera House. View from our Dress Circle seats.

3. Get there early

Getting to San Francisco from anywhere in the Bay Area takes a fair amount of time, especially on a weekday evening. We gave ourselves 2+ hours for the drive even though the drive normally takes 45mins on a regular day. 2+ hours turned out to be about the right estimate, we reached at 6:15pm for the 7pm show even though we left home at 4:30pm! It’s important to get to the venue as early as possible. Once the show starts, latecomers are seated at the discretion of the management and you might have to wait until a break in the performance to get seated. It’s a bummer to miss any part of the show, so plan ahead and get to the venue early! Getting there early also allows you some time to relax and enjoy the anticipation of attending an opera.

BalletDancersBallet dancers Christmas Tree ornaments

4. Indulge in some pre-show prosecco and snacks

An additional perk when you arrive at the venue early is that you get to indulge in some prosecco / champagne / drinks and nibble on some pre-show snacks. Most opera houses have cafes and booths serving wine and drinks. The War Memorial Opera House even offers a dinner buffet before the show. It’s no fun trying to enjoy the opera if you’re hungry. So indulge in a couple glasses of prosecco and a cookie or sandwich, and you’re all set for the show!

PanoramaStagePanorama of the interior stage at War Memorial Opera House from our Dress Circle seats

5. Buy (and read!) the program

Even if the tickets cost good money, I was pleasantly surprised that the printed programs are not expensive. $10 will get you a book filled with gorgeous photographs of the Nutcracker, with informational tidbits about the history and legacy of the show, along with interesting notes about the story and the performers. This is a good opportunity to glance through the story beforehand, so you know what to expect when the performance is underway.

BalletChristmasOrnamentsBeautiful Christmas ballet dancers

6. No photography or videography allowed

There’s absolutely no photography or videography allowed during the performances, yes this means even your nifty cellphone with the awesome 8 megapixel camera needs to be switched off. Bright lights and sounds in the audience are a distraction not just to the performers but to other people seated near you. Acoustics in the opera house are amazingly sharp and even slight sounds travel a far distance. So, this is one experience best enjoyed with your own 5 senses without resorting to trying to capture every scene in a frame. The program / souvenir book contains many amazing photos you can see and enjoy later.

SeatedInsideTaking it all in!

7. Relax after the show, there’s no rush!

As soon as the performances end, there will be a mad rush with everybody trying to get to the exits. We’ve found it to be quite enjoyable to sit back and relax at this time, soaking up the afterglow of the show, instead of standing in line impatiently waiting for people to move along. This works really well in cinema theaters when the movie ends too. The crowd will disperse in a few minutes and you will get a fantastic opportunity to whip out your phone and take some selfie’s of yourself in the gilded auditorium.

NutcrackerSouvenirsNutcracker dolls make great souvenirs

If you go:

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, California
When: Nutcracker runs from Dec 21st through Dec 29th, 2013
Parking: Civic Center Plaza Garage (355 McAllister St, San Francisco) is a great place to park. See more options here.
What to bring: 
1. Your tickets for the show
2. Opera glasses / Binoculars
3. Cash for the program, drinks, snacks, souvenirs
4. Cough drops to preempt any coughing fits

Merry Christmas!

~ Trupti



From → San Francisco

  1. This is the first year we didn’t see a production of The Nutcracker in about 20 years, just couldn’t fit it in with all of our travels. But our holidays were good anyway. Love that you put in #2, dress up. People hardly ever do anymore. Happy New Year!

    • Wow, that’s wonderful you try to catch the Nutcracker every year! It’s such a great way to start off the holidays 🙂 Which is your favorite destination from your travels last year? Happy New Year and here’s wishing many more fun adventures and travels to you in 2014!

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