Larger opera seats are needed for an … expanding audience

Larger opera seats are needed for an … expanding audience


norman lebrecht

August 23, 2021

San Francisco Opera has installed bigger seats for its, er, growing audience.

Tonight, as you settle in to enjoy our opening night production of “Tosca,” you may notice something different. Gone are the 1932 chairs, with their unruly springs and quicksand texture. You might find yourself relaxing into your seat, stretching your legs and feeling, well, comfortable.

And the New York Times is the first to spread its thighs.

The renovation began in 2013 with replacement of seats on the box level, and it includes 12 bariatric seats, designed to hold weights of up to 300 pounds, that will be 28 inches wide, as well as 38 spaces for wheelchairs, an increase of six from before the renovation. The project was funded by a ticket fee ranging from $1 to $3.

Read on here.




  • Curvy Honk Glove says:

    So you’re going to chastise the San Fran opera for installing larger seats now? What’s your take on airline seating? Is that also too roomy for ya’? Ya’ll whine here about the virus and social distancing; the playhouse gives you bigger, better seats; and now fatties don’t deserve opera.

  • Patrick says:

    Hey, I’m okay with larger seats, but cup holders??

  • Save the MET says:

    Glad to see this in SF. When one pays over $150 for an opera ticket, one should expect to sit in reasonable comfort. That said, Wagner made his seats intentionally uncomfortable at Bayreuth and the family kept with tradition. The Metropolitan Opera seats have always been narrow and the aisles tight making it incredibly uncomfortable not only for large people, but taller people as well. The velvet is also poorly maintained and shabby. Unlikely Gelb would ever do anything about it.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Under Volpe, several rows of seats were re-upholstered every summer (in-house), so that every decade or so the entire auditorium was refreshed. I doubt this continued in the Gelb era.

    • Monsoon says:

      JFC. Gelb must live inside your head rent free.

      The Met seats are relatively wide — I can easily have my winter jacket fold up on the seat to the side of my thighs. The aisles are three seats wide, and thus can accommodate at least 4 people standing across (wide enough that during intermission, people will stand in the aisle leaning against the end arm rests while people walk past them).

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I think this is good news. The seats of the S.F. Opera have always struck me as narrow and uncomfortable. I’ve often times purchased a less expensive standing room ticket and enjoyed the space to stretch out. My first time there was in the latter 1970’s.

  • John Borstlap says:

    My fly on the wall informs me that they also have reinforced the pillars under the balcony with concrete and steel beams. The reason for all of this happens to be the 5 star restaurant next door. Initially the staff tried to convince the cooks to prepare less carb heavy menues but they were rebuffed. It is all the outcome of a controversy between the two institutions over 3 years, the conflict between two mutually exclusive interests.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Yuck…They have flies on the walls as well? I’d certainly worry about the insect problem before the diets of patrons.

  • J Barcelo says:

    I wish Royal Albert Hall would do something – those seats are killers for us fat-butt Americans!

  • May says:

    Anyone who needs a seat 72 centimetres wide needs to also go to the gym.

    • Save the MET says:

      Gosh, trendy posteriors (bedonkadonks) are in, from doing squats at the gym, or via plastic surgery. Some people are just naturally large back there. Keep in mind, a Kardashian wants to sit in comfort.

  • mgrimm says:

    Read the article Norman. It speaks about making the seats more like what people have become accustomed to during the pandemic- their sofas. If you want to imply that has made every single audience member’s asses bigger that is entirely your interpretation. Body shaming- nice one. What is your point in most of these posts? You have become so negative. At least, that is how I have chosen to interpret your post which makes me negative too.

  • SlippedChat says:

    It’s interesting that opera companies are simultaneously preoccupied with expanding the width of the seating while limiting the width of the singers.

  • Jason says:

    Opera house have been begging for larger audiences for years. Maybe they should have been more specific.

  • MacroV says:

    I would have thought this would have been dealt with when the house was renovated about 20 years ago, though IIRC much of that was to repair earthquake damage.

  • Byron says:

    Sadly, this follows a similar trend in American movie theaters that now have ridiculously large seats with not just cup holders but large fold-out food trays for one’s pizza and nachos. Keep in mind we are also being indoctrinated (from both sides of the political aisle) that obesity is now a valid lifestyle choice.

    • V. Lind says:

      How is it that the Seven Deadly Sins all seem to have been turned into woke virtues?

    • Bill says:

      I never found the SF Opera seats to be too narrow, though additional pitch would have been welcome. But I’m there to watch an opera, not do some hard cornering in a sports car, and it is neither necessary nor desirable for the seat to hold me in place. And I dislike physical contact with my neighbors. I appreciate being able to change my position without concern about elbowing my neighbor — not much padding on my sit bones!

      I enjoy the movie theater seat upgrades as well, it’s simply a more comfortable seat!

  • Bernard Jacobson says:

    In one of the intermission features I recorded for the Philadelphia Orchestra during the late-1900s fundraising campaign that eventually resulted in the creation of Verizon Hall, part of my discussion with Kurt Masur concerned the desirable size for a new hall. We took it as generally established that the more seats you put in a hall beyond a fairly modest number, the harder it becomes to get good acoustics. Masur observed that there are halls in Japan with as many as 3,000 seats that have excellent acoustics. But then with a characteristic sly smile he remarked, “You mustn’t forget that Japanese people [to one of whom he was married] are smaller!” In other words, you can fit 3,000 Japanese concertgoers into a hall whose physical size – as with both the Academy of Music and Verizon – could only comfortably accommodate 2,500 Americans. (And we’ve eaten quite a lot since then.)

    Bernard Jacobson

  • Just a member of the audience says:

    Let’s hear it for bariatric seats, although being able to support 300 pounds may not be sufficient. As a short (64 inches) and light (138 pounds) man I have happily sat in the upper reaches of the Covent Garden Auditorium – the seats without arm rests. They are not too narrow for me and have great sight lines because of the steep rake.

    But on my most recent visit I found myself next to a morbidly obese man, well over 300 pounds, who impinged on his female companion’s seat on one side and fully half of mine on the other. He probably chose to sit there because he could not possibly fit in any seat with arm rests. My most unpleasant operatic experience. We left at the interval.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      I once similarly suffered for an ENTIRE operatic season by having to sit next to an unbelievably obese fellow Lyric Opera of Chicago subscriber at each of the 8 or so operas on my (and unfortunately his) subscription package. Compared to every other economically developed nation, Americans are incredibly unhealthy and overweight and nowhere more so than in the South and Midwest. If only “fat shaming” were more effective and widespread – particularly in the opera world!