City by the Bay

My last-minute audition trip to San Francisco was pure hell. That famous West Coast mellowness was notably absent as the airport van driver shouted obscenities at pedestrians on the crosswalk. My beautiful Victorian B&B featured two adorable dogs–and thick coatings of their adorable fur on every household surface. And when, just before my audition, an hour of frantic phoning finally produced a taxi, I was too desperate to tell the white supremacist-cum-stand-up-comic driver just what I thought of him.

My audition went well in spite of the furore, but who needs this when you have to sing? And who has time to research inexpensive, singer-friendly services in city after unfamiliar city? Classical Singer does. Voilà–the first Singer’s City Guide, to be followed by features on other major audition cities. Feel free to contribute your own hot tips, and cut down on audition trip stress!

The Stage Audition

War Memorial Opera House is located at the corner of Ivy and Van Ness Avenue. For my house audition, I was offered time with the staff accompanist who would be playing for me. Because I was early and there were few singers, my allotted 15 minutes stretched to 30, and I was allowed to remain behind in his office to warm up. When I arrived, the security guard directed me to the rehearsal department, where I was kindly greeted and escorted to my accompanist’s office. Back downstairs, another staff member escorted me to the stage, set for that evening’s performance. The grand piano was onstage; the house manages an intimate feel despite its size, and the acoustics were quite good. The entire artistic staff was present. Lotfi Mansouri presided and did all the talking. I’ve never been treated more graciously or pleasantly at an audition; the maestro spoke to me after each of my selections, commenting and asking questions. My trip to San Francisco may have been hell, but the audition itself was absolute heaven!


Parking is a nightmare to find–and to successfully negotiate–on those steep hills. Taxis are hard to come by. Not to worry–public transportation is good, plentiful, and inexpensive.

Public Transportation

Parking is a nightmare to find – and to successfully negotiate – on those steep hills. Taxis are hard to come by. Not to worry- public transportation is good, plentiful and inexpensive.

MUNI (Municipal Railway; includes streetcars, buses, and cable cars). Tokens: 10, $8.00. Free transfers. MUNI Passports: 1 day unlimited travel– $6; 3 days–$10; 7 days–$15; monthly–$35. Also valid on some Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains and CalTrains.

BART/Plus passes unlimited rides on MUNI and other Bay Area transportation, plus a predetermined amount of BART fare. Information: 510/464-7133.

Buy passes at Muni Headquarters, 949 Presidio @ Geary; Nordstrom’s, 865 Market @ 5th St., War Memorial Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness @ McAllister, and many Burger King or McDonald’s locations.

MUNI map ($2.50) lists streets and routes. Order: 415/923-6162. Detailed information:

Airport Transportation

Stop by the attended kiosk in the baggage claim area for a fistful of maps, tourist brochures, and lists of transportation services. Pick up most services at the upper level of the terminals, at the center island outside the airport ticket counters.

Unreserved door-to-door van services, $10-$14 plus tip.

Pre-arranged van service, $9, Francisco’s Adventure, 415/821-0903.

Taxis to the city, about $29.

Public transportation: MUNI to downtown BART stations, $1. Take the SFO Airporter or SamTrans to BART. Information: 415/673-6864. (SamTrans buses to the city, $3. Information: 415/508-6200.)

BART, $3.25. Take Sams Trans #3X bus to the Colma BART station; transfer to your train of choice.

CalTrain, $2; free shuttle service to Millbrae station. Detailed information: .


A non-singer friend recommended a $150/night hotel as “cheap.” Snort. A quick snoop ‘round the Net revealed a variety of short- and long-term residences, many around $50 a night.


They are by far the cheapest night’s rest and many offer weekly rates and cooking facilities. They often have special restrictions, so call first.

Green Tortoise Backpackers Guesthouse, North Beach. $15. 415/834-1000; e-mail .

Classical Singer sublets:

HI-San Francisco, Union Square. $17-19. 415/788-5604.

Pacific Tradewinds Guest House, North Beach. $18. 415/433-7970; e-mail


Bed and Breakfasts

San Francisco’s charming Victorian homes can be a refreshing antidote to impersonal hotels–just be sure to inquire about pets, and whether your warm-ups will frighten the neighbors.

Bock’s Bed and Breakfast, 1448 Willard St., 94117. $45-$75; discounts for longer stay. 415/664-6842.

A Country Cottage, #5 Dolores Terrace, 94110. $59. 415/479-1913.

Castillo Inn, 48 Henry St., 94107. $55-$65. 415/864-5111.

More: .


Lotus Hotel, 580 Farrell St., 94102. $40. 415/885-8008.

Grant Plaza Hotel, 465 Grant Ave., Union Square. $59.

Marina Inn, 3110 Octavia, Marina District. $55-$75.

Residence Hotels

$215/week for a private room/hall bath to $250/week for private room/private bath. Also a two week and monthly rates.

The Kenmore, 1570 Sutton St., 94109, Cathedral Hill. 415/776-9659; e-mail

The Monroe, 1870 Sacramento St., 94109, Pacific Heights. 415/474-6200; e-mail

The Harcourt, 1105 Larkin St., 94109, 415/673-7720; e-mail

The Gaylord, 620 Jones St., 94102. $350/week plus 14% city hotel tax; $900/month, no tax. 1-800-336/8445, 415/885-0934.



Where better to get recommendations for coaches and accompanists than from other singers? A few of baritone David Cox’s favorites:

Peter Grunberg (San Francisco Opera, Lake George Opera). “We call him the ‘Grunberg Philharmonic’,” says Cox. Home: 415/346-2707. Work: 415/565-3252; e-mail

Marcie Stapp (San Francisco Conservatory; Sakai City Opera, Japan), 415/681-7625.

Jerome Lenk (Opera San Jose; Mission Dolores Basilica), 650/738-3095.

Ron Valentino, 415/431-3459.
Steven Bailey (San Francisco Conservatory), 415/759-3400 ext. 3583.

Classical Singer Coaches and Accompanists Directory, 3rd Edition.

Rehearsal Space

Community Music Center, 544 Capp St., 415/647-6015.

Lina C. Cotman

Lina C. Cotman is an associate editor for Classical Singer. She lives and works in New York City.