San Francisco Opera Celebrates its 96th Season

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Not only does the Opera Gala open the fall season, but also it is an opportunity to meet up with friends after the summer hiatus—to see and be seen.

The San Francisco Opera opened its 2018–19 season with its annual weekend of celebratory affairs, including two sold-out galas—Opera Ball 2018: ¡Viva La Noche!and the BRAVO! CLUB Opening Night Gala, one of the grandest and most opulent events in the city.

Opera aficionados enjoyed a double bill of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (or Cav/Pag), set in Argentina, which inspired the theme of the evening.


Opera Guild President Jane Mudge and Gala co-chairs Shannon Cronan and Kathy Huber, adorned in unique pieces crafted by official jewelry sponsor Shreve & Co. (established in 1852) welcomed the 700 attendees on a gold carpet at the Grove Street entrance of the War Memorial Opera House.

Priscilla Geeslin, SF Opera President Keith Geeslin, soprano Carmen Giannattasio, Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock, and Kate Shilvock.
Gala co-chairs Shannon Cronan, wearing Monique Lhuillier; Jane Mudge, also in Monique Lhuillier; and Kathy Huber, wearing Rubin Singer.
BRAVO! Club committee members Kari Lincks Coomans, Susan Walker, Rachel Bier Lem, Kristi Symon, Andy Krasny, Xanadu Bruggers, Shannon Eliot, Anjali Menon, Leah Fine, Keith Cantrelle, Nicole Jiam, Laura Della Guardia, Nora White, and Arif Damji.
Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio, who’s making her SF Opera debut in the title role of Tosca this season, accessorized her Antonio Riva ball gown with Bulgari jewels; she’s a brand ambassador for both.


Kicking off each year’s opera season, the evening is one of the city’s—perhaps the planet’s—most glamorous and grand events. Some say it can hold its own against the Academy Awards red carpet parade.

Many arrived promptly at 5 for the cocktail reception in the grand foyer of the War Memorial Opera House, considering this part of the evening second only to the performance itself. When we got there at 5:30, we felt the excitement in the air.

Joel Goodrich, wearing Dolce & Gabbana; Navid Armstrong, wearing vintage Bill Blass; Gabrielle Choo; Clara Shayevich, wearing Vasily Vein; Deepa Pakianathan, wearing Carolina Herrera; and Christophe Choo.
Krista Giovara, Jamie Feingold, James Bundy, Diane Adams, Peter Hernandez, Claudia Ross, Joshua Morgan, Shelley Gordon, and Mia Wright.
L to R.: Paul Pelosi and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; Maryjo Tisor and Todd Kaplan.
Dr. Maya Meux, Opera Guild Member Debby Sagues, and fashion designer Yuka Uehara, wearing one of her own Tokyo Gamine designs.
L to R: Society hairstylist Alex Chases and Jennifer Walske, wearing Andrew Gn; Thurlow Washam and fashion designer Karen Caldwell, in one of her own designs.
Three generations of opera fans: young Kelly Cronan, Opera Ball Co-Chair Shannon Cronan, and her mother Sandra Farris, who co-chaired the 2016 Opera Ball.
Mark Medearis, former Opera Guild President and Gala Co-Chair Teresa Medearis, 2018 Gala Co-Chair Kathy Huber, and Larry Binkley.
Kate Shilvock, Gorretti Lo Lui, Feysan Lodde, SF Mayor London Breed, Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock, and Olivia Hsu Decker.
L to R: Former Gala Co-Chair Karen Kubin, Gary Garabedian, and current Gala Co-Chair and Opera Guild President Jane Mudge; Robert Mison, a founding member of the BRAVO! CLUB, and Elena Hughes, wearing Safiyaa.
SF Opera Board Members Cathy and Pitch Johnson, Opera Ball Honorary Chair Cynthia Fry Gunn, wearing Oscar de la Renta, and SF Opera Board Chair John Gunn.
L to R: Richard Livermore and Opera Guild Member Cynthia Livermore; Carolyn Chandler, wearing Marchesa, and Jorge Maumer, in a Tom Ford dinner jacket.
Ladies in blue: Sheila Nahi and Opera Guild Members Maryam Muduroglu, Ginny Cartwright Ziegler, and Maria Pitcairn.
L to R: A nod to the Argentinian theme; Seattle Art Museum Trustee Roberta Sherman and Julie Coplon, who divides her time between San Francisco and Palm Springs.
Keith Woodcock, Kathleen Woodcock, Rich Greenwood, and Beth Townsend.
L to R: Philip Wilson and Opera Guild Member Linda Zider; Jim Malott and Opera Guild Managing Director Susan Malott.
Ignacio Deltour, Sukey Forbes, Jennifer Raiser, who had just returned from Burning Man, and Michael Purdy, with eyes courtesy artist A.J. Harvath.


The colorful pageantry was lovely to behold. The gorgeous ladies and dashing gentlemen arrived in the most colorful, glamorous, and exotic styles to date. I noticed a profusion of bright red outfits and several whimsical headpieces, a nod to the Argentinian theme.

Many of the bejeweled women sparkled thanks to official jewelry sponsor Shreve & Co., established in San Francisco in 1852. Kudos to them for keeping the tradition going.

L to R: Roman Gronkowski, wearing Walter Van Beirendonck, and Denise Littlefield Sobel, wearing J. Mendel. Denise’s family has been one of the largest donors to the Opera; PR maven Claudia Ross, in Monique Lhuillier, and Kai Tan.
L to R: San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the 45th mayor elected in June 2018; Sheila Nahi, Nazan Orr, and Opera Guild Executive Committee Member Maryam Muduroglu.
L to R: Former Secretary of State George Shultz and SF Protocol Chief Charlotte Shultz Charlotte Shultz, wearing Pamella Roland; Barbara Brown, wearing Alexandre Vauthier, and Carolyn Chang, wearing Andrew Gn.
Sebastian Malin, Gregory Malin, Turid Diskerud, Tore Diskerud, and Benjamin Malin, family of the late former Guild President) Charlot Malin.
L to R: Opera Guild Member Afsaneh “Sunny” Akhara, wearing Dolce & Gabbana, and Donald Smith. The couple married in 2017 and she moved to NYC, but they often return to San Francisco; Jon Rubinstein and SF Opera Board Member Karen Richardson, wearing Carolina Herrera.
L to R: John Grotts and Lisa Grotts, wearing Temperley London—appropriate considering that she covered Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding for Nob Hill Gazette in May; Olivia Hsu Decker, the new publisher of luxury lifestyle magazine Haute Living, and Seth Semilof.
Dennis Calas, Lorna Meyer Calas, Carol Parker, and Gerry Parker.
L to R: Daniel Girard and former Opera Guild President Ann Girard; Jeanne Lawrence, SF Ballet principal dancer Yuan Yuan Tan, and Stephanie Lawrence. Shanghai-born Yuan Yuan has shared many happy times together in Shanghai with the Lawrences.
L to R: Dean Sioukas and Chrisa Pappas, in from Sacramento; Camille Bently, looking like the night sky in a Christian Siriano frock dotted with Swarovski crystals, and Christopher Bently, wearing Tom Ford.


Guests lingering at the cocktail hour had to be cajoled into the pavilion adjacent to the Opera House when dinner was announced. Perhaps next year they should forego the sit-down dinner for a two-hour cocktail party (though we ladies might get tired standing in our stilettos!).

Opening Weekend Grand Sponsor Dede Wilsey, wearing Oscar de la Renta, Bob Hill, and Diane Chapman.
Justice Franklin Elia and Heide Betz on their way to the dinner tent.
Tiara Cameron, Alton Irby, and Daru Kawalkowski.
L to R: Los Angelinos Ali Rahimi and Patricia Kelly, wearing Ali Rahimi for Mon Atelier; Joel Goodrich and Clara Shayevich.
L to R: Former SF Mayor Willie Brown, in a custom silk Brioni jacket, and Sonya Molodetskaya, wearing a stunning Zac Posen opera coat; Farah Makras, wearing Carolina Herrera; event designer Riccardo Benavides; Komal Shah, wearing a Dolce & Gabbana dress and Ken Fulk headpiece; and her husband Gaurav Garg.
Opera Guild Member Toni Wolfson, wearing Carolina Herrera, entered the dinner pavilion with her husband Bob Federighi.
The vision for Opera Ball 2018: ¡Viva La Noche! was that of event designer J. Riccardo Benavides of Ideas-Events, who, with his co-chairs, had traveled to Buenos Aires to do research.
The Gala team visited the La Boca quarter of Buenos Aires, the neighborhood that inspired producer José Cura’s festive Argentinian atmosphere in Cav/Pag.
Designer J. Riccardo Benavides ultimately created an atmosphere of Italianate elegance and the distinctly Argentinian flavor of La Boca.
Tanya Powell and Opera Guild Members Natalia Urrutia-Hernandez, Marilyn Cabak, and Patricia Ferrin Loucks.
L to R: David Shimmon and Mary Beth Shimmon, wearing a Brandon Maxwell dress and headpiece by Martin Cuadra, inspired by the recent “Heavenly Bodies” fashion exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; Opera Guild Member Vera Carpeneti, with Richard Carpeneti and Debra Carpeneti.
Mark Hanson, Christina Hanson, Linda Kemper, and former Opera General Director David Gockley.
Jacqui Erdman, SF Opera Board Member Carol Buck, Mackenzie Erdman, and Christian Erdman.


With Sonoma and Napa Valley wine country a mere hour away, irresistible fine vintages are always on the menu. (Many of us were begging for coffee to keep us alert for the three-hour opera!)
Chalk Hill Estate Vinyards and Winery made its debut appearance this year as the official Opera Ball wine sponsor. Roederer Estate was the sparkling wine sponsor.
McCalls Catering executive chef Josip Martinovic prepared an Argentinian menu featuring beef (of course), along with a crab and prawn salad and a chocolate-berry parfait for dessert.
McCalls Catering and Dinner Sponsor Neiman Marcus put together another fabulous gala meal.
Torrey Holmes, John Holmes, Lisa Shaw, Lionel Shaw, Rick Moseley, Yasmine Zdencaj, James Bradford, Amy Freeborn, Karin Flood, and Leslie Gay.
Mia White, Joshua Morgan, and Shelley Gordon.
SF Mayor London Breed and former SF Mayor Willie Brown. Don’t you wonder what they are discussing?
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and husband Paul Pelosi (handsome as ever in white tie and tails) celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary.


The curtain at the Opera House rose at 8 p.m. for the three-hour performance, with one intermission. To be honest, I would have preferred a shorter opera for opening night.

It is customary for the performance to begin with the singing of our national anthem, and the presence of some very outstanding voices in the audience made it especially moving. When local politician Nancy Pelosi was acknowledged, the audience gave her a long, loud applause.

Attending opening night is a tradition for many families that have supported the opera for generations, often sitting in the same seats or boxes held for years.
Every year, Honorary Chair and Grand Sponsor Diane “Dede” Wilsey sponsors the floral garlands that deck the opera house box horseshoe.
The grand Beaux-Arts War Memorial Opera House, opened in 1932, seats over 3,000 but still feels intimate.
Another revered tradition is the welcome by Opera Board President Keith Geeslin, Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock, and Opera Board Chair John Gunn.


The night’s performance was a double bill of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (or Cav/Pag), a typical operatic tale of love lost, betrayal, and death, in this case involving rural villagers and members of a small theater troupe.

The opera is sung in Italian but set in Argentina. The gala’s theme was further inspired by Argentinian producer José Cura and Argentinian revival director Jose Maria Condemi. Conductor Maestro Daniele Callegari was one of several conductors debuting at the Opera this season after Music Director Nicola Luisotti departed last year.

A scene from Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
Laura Krumm as the jealous Lola, Roberto Aronica as the playboy Turiddu, and Ekaterina Semenchuk as the heartbroken Santuzza.
Turiddu publicly toasts the suitors of Lola, his lover and former fiancée, before agreeing to a duel with her husband Alfio.
Dancers Alexandra FitzGibbon and Jekyns Peláez in Cavalleria Rusticana.
A scene from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.
Lovers Silvio (played by David Pershall) and the married Nedda (played by Lianna Haroutounian).
Amitai Pati as circus actor Beppe and Marco Berti as Canio, the vengeful cuckolded husband.
Beppe, Nedda, and Tonio (played by Dimitri Platanias), a fellow circus actor who tells Canio of his wife’s betrayal.


After the last curtain call, patrons rushed back to the pavilion tent for the 11p.m. after-party to catch up with friends, dance, and enjoy the sweets and savories on the buffet table.

The dance floor was packed with dancers gyrating to the sounds of the band Pop Rocks. This year’s party seemed even more spirited than last, with guests staying until they closed it down.

Veronica Rivas-Tramontozzi and Robert Beadle cut a rug.
Randy Laroche and David Laudon on the dance floor.
L to R: Opera Guild Member Michelle Ritchie and Opera Guild Executive Committee Member Mary Poland; Mai Shiver and Arthur Sharif. Mai moved to NYC several years ago but returns to San Francisco often.
Some of the younger set: Yuka Uehara, Liz Curtis, and Stephanie Lawrence.
Opera runs in the family: Opera Guild Member Linle Froeb and husband Jim Froeb with daughter Phoebe Froeb.
Another family affair: Opera Guild President Jane Mudge (center) with daughters Maggie and Catie Mudge.


In keeping with the Argentinian theme, a Tango Lounge was set up. With the atmosphere of a private VIP space, it was fringed with banquettes where guests could sip after-dinner drinks and watch tango dancers. The brave ones could put on their own performances, accompanied by the sultry music.

The last guests at the party finally took their leave in the wee hours of the morning, and the beautifully lit City Hall bid them adieu.

Photos by Drew Altizer and The San Francisco Opera.

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