Road Show: Patricia Racette in San Francisco

New Hampshire native Patricia Racette has a special affection for San Francisco. ERIC MYERS reports.

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The San Francisco skyline
© San Francisco Travel Association photo by Can Balcioglu
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© Dario Acosta 2013
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The War Memorial Opera House
© San Francisco Travel Association photos by Scott Chernis

Although she was born and raised in New Hampshire and now lives in Santa Fe, Patricia Racette considers San Francisco her artistichome. "I went through the young-artists program there," she says. "I was covering Gabriela Beñačková in Mefistofele. And I was sitting there in the audience in jeans and a turtleneck, waiting for the final dress rehearsal to start, when Sarah Billinghurst came to look for me. She was the artistic administrator at the time. She said, 'We need you onstage immediately.' Beñačková had just had some kind of attack that rendered her incapable of going on. So I had to jump into one of the most truly intricate productions ever, in front of a full audience!"

Racette stayed on in San Francisco for ten years, and she developed a fervently loyal fan base. "The audiences there are fantastic," she raves."They're enthusiastic, they have a high level of sophistication, and they're very committed to this art form. Those audiences are a big part of my feeling for that city. That kind of familiarity is a wonderful thing to have in such a transient profession."

Being on the road so much is one of the most challenging aspects of Racette's career. She's basically a homebody who likes nothing better than to enjoy her house in Santa Fe with her partner, mezzo Beth Clayton. "Last year was more generous in terms of the time we could spend there," she says, "but this year it's just going to be a week here and a week there. It's much more difficult. Still, this was the plan — we built the house so that we could eventually retire there and spend more time in it." What she misses most while on the road is her kitchen. "I miss all my fun cooking utensils and gadgets, I miss my cookbooks, I miss my counter space!" she mourns. "When you're in a corporate apartment, and you basically get your four sets of knives, forks and spoons, it's pretty sparse. I have a chef knife that I travel with, and a few other kitchen supplies. More and more, cooking has become a hobby of mine. I love planning a meal, going grocery shopping — I enjoy that so very much. It's creative, and it's something you can accomplish in a short period of time. As a performer, the job is never done — you're constantly perfecting and polishing, and of course, it's a richly collaborative process. But in the kitchen — it's my show! It's my own little totalitarian state."

Of course, San Francisco is one of the world's great restaurant cities, and Racette has plenty of favorite dining spots there. One of the areas she always goes to for traditional Italian food is the North Beach neighborhood, which she adores. "There's a place there called Tony's," she says, "that serves the most amazing authentic Neapolitan pizza that you'll ever have in the United States. There's always a line out the door. There's also a cute place called Da Flora that's owned by a couple. It's got great local cuisine, and they're very good with wine pairings there. Then there's a place called the Slanted Door in the Embarcadero District that I love. It's Vietnamese–French fusion, and it's really creative, beautifully prepared cuisine. There's also a great place in the Mission District called Range, which is all organic. Their food is also really fresh and intricately prepared, without being what I would call 'designer food.'"

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The city's North Beach neighborhood
© San Francisco Travel Association photos by Scott Chernis

San Francisco Picks

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
1570 Stockton St.
(415) 835-9888

Da Flora
701 Columbus Ave.
(415) 981-4664

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building #3
(415) 861-8032

842 Valencia St.
(415) 282-8283

The Bay Club
150 Greenwich St.
(415) 433-2200

Dimitra’s Skin Care
and Medi-Spa
324 West Portal Ave.
(415) 731-8080

Until now, Racette and Clayton have always sublet the same apartment in San Francisco's Russian Hill district, but the owner recently sold it. "We absolutely loved it," she says, "and we became members of a fantastic fitness club nearby called the Bay Club, which was huge and had a lot of facilities. So the next time will be a new experience." 

Racette is the first to admit that she's not a shopping person, except for kitchen supplies. But she's happy to share the word on her favorite spa. "It's called Dimitra's. It's a wonderful place that's unique to San Francisco. Dimitra gives a fantastic facial. I always make time for that. I call Dimitra my Greek mother. She just has the touch." 

When Racette is in San Francisco, her work schedule is such that down time is rare. She quotes "a famous opera singer who once said, 'When I'm through with my career, I want to travel the world and actually see it.' I'm working my tail off, and my down time is usually just spent trying to rejuvenate, and recuperate from that six-day work week. And there's no question that the kind of repertoire I sing takes a lot out of you. The emotional journey of my characters is usually not a light one. So I truly don't have much energy for exploring. At the end of my work day I'm just ready to sit down for a minute." 

But sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, you might see her and Clayton strolling with their dog, Sappho, on Ocean Beach, at the far western edge of the city. "It's a beautiful expanse of beach," she says, "and we love to walk up there." spacer 

ERIC MYERS is the author of three books. He has contributed articles to Playbill, Time Out New York and The New York Times Magazine and Arts and Leisure section. 

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