Los Angeles has the Oscar’s Red Carpet, New York has the Met Ball,and San Francisco has its Opera opening galas that are their equal in glamour and excitement. For many, it is a tradition to attend the prestigious Opera Gala that opens the San Francisco fall social season and is one of the West Coast’s most glamorous events.
ROMEO AND JULIET OPERA
As usual, and for good reason, opera supporters came from the entire Bay Area to attend the 2019 opening, the start of the Opera’s 97th season. In a nod to the featured presentation, Charles Gounod’sRomeo and Juliet, the evening’s theme was “The Capulets’ Masked Ball.” Romance was in the air.
Opera devotees rose to the challenge by donning imaginative creations to wear at the masquerade ball that, along with a sumptuous dinner, a brilliant performance, and an upbeat after-party, made the evening memorable.
This year’s Opera Gala was co-chaired by Elizabeth Birka-White and Jane Mudge (Opera Guild President 2016-2018), joined by honorary chairs and longtime opera patrons John and Cynthia Fry Gunn and Diane B. Wilsey.
THE GRAND ENTRANCE
Just as the French have “la rentrée,” San Franciscans return home from their summer hiatus to resume their normal routine, and for many the opera is the first time to catch up with their friends.
With champagne glasses in hand during the cocktail reception, gala-goers mingled in the magnificent foyer of the War Memorial Opera House. The room was resplendent with women in spectacular designer gowns escorted by men wearing elegant black (or white) tie in grand opera tradition.
THE DINNER PROMENADE
As always, the opera crowd had to be coaxed to leave the champagne reception, but all eventually made their way to the Tent Pavilion, where the lively conversations continued throughout dinner.
DINNER IN VERONA
Some 750 patrons attended this year’s sold-out black-tie dinner in the splendid Tented Pavilion created by Ideas Event’s Riccardo Benavides. He drew his inspiration from the Renaissance gardens of Verona, Italy, the home of Shakespeare’s ill-fated lovers, Romeo and Juliet.
Charles Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet was first performed by the SF Opera during its very first season inOctober 1923. For me, it was special to watch the young Nadine Sierra perform as Juliet. I first saw her perform at the annual Festival Napa Valley in July 2015 when she was only 27 years old. Even then we knew she’d be a star and she has since performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House and at the Paris Palais Garnier Opera House.
Following the beautiful, touching performance, opera gala patrons and the BRAVO! members returned to the Tented Pavilion for the after-party for some more nibbles and drinks, socialize with friends—and discuss the opera, no doubt.
Partygoers exclaimed this was one of the most spirited and lively after-parties yet, as the Committee had generously included the BRAVO! crowd. These younger and energetic dancers packed the dance floor until the end of the evening—long after the clock had struck midnight.
Photos by Drew Altizer, Riccardo Benavides, and courtesy San Francisco Opera.