San Francisco’s fall season debuted on a high note with opening nights of both the SF Opera and SF Symphony in the same week! Summer travelers were drawn back to the city — like moths to a flame — with the greatest of expectations, and they weren’t disappointed.
The San Francisco Opera opened its 83rd season with Gioachino Antonio Rossini’s comedy The Italian Girl in Algiers. The production was staged in the magnificent 1932 ‘Beaux-Arts’ War Memorial Opera House, designed by Arthur Brown, Jr. (Coit Tower and City Hall, too), and seats about 3,000 people.
Chaired by Katie Jarman and Victoria Kornblum, the Opera Guild’s “Midnight at the Oasis” Opera Ball was an evening of Algerian themed fantasy — lush, exotic opulence.
Entering the gilded gates, guests were welcomed with Arab music, snake charmers, sultry harem dancers, palace guards, and even a real camel (for photo ops). Down a passage bordered by palm trees, the pre-performance reception awaited in some of the most luxurious tents this side of a North African oasis.
The glamorous crowd grazed at stations of heaping caviar and icy Grey Goose vodka (a sponsor), Moroccan cured salmon, New York beef sirloin, Gulf prawns and mezzes — so no one had to sit through the opera hungry, thank you very much!
Huddled at cocktails were former Mayor Willie Brown, Jr. and current Mayor Gavin Newsom in a playful discussion – their many inside jokes keeping it oh so jovial.
Meanwhile, in the Opera House Loggia, the younger set was enjoying the Bravo! Club’s 14th annual soiree. Their “Night at Casbah” was chaired by Virginia Cartwright and Kirsten Bartok, and catered by Patina.
Before the opera began, Chairman of the Board Franklin P. Johnson, Jr. and SF Opera Association President Karl O. Mills presented General Director Pamela Rosenberg with the San Francisco Opera Medal, its highest honor for artistic professionals.
An emotional Rosenberg announced this would be her final season before taking her new position with the Berlin Philharmonic in January. She raved about San Francisco’s art scene. “The city can be proud of this jewel they have,” she said. “Art fills you with joy.”
Afterwards, honored dignitaries were introduced including Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his first lady, Jolanta; Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who is not only Minority Speaker of the House but mother of five and a grandmother to boot; and Mayor Newsom.
Principal Conductor Donald Runnicles lead the orchestra while mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, as Isabella, and bass Ildar Abdrazakov, as Mustafa, performed under the direction of Chris Alexander. The sets were designed by Robert Innes Hopkins with costumes by David C. Woolard and lighting by Duane Schuler.
Seen in the crowd: General director-designate David Gockley; Honorary Chairman and Opening Night performance sponsor Dede Wilsey with former husband John Traina; Grand Benefactor Sponsor John Gunn and Cynthia Fry Gunn; John Hutchinson, Affiliate Sponsor Production Team; Opera Guild Chair Cheryl Baxter and Ralph Baxter; Lois Lehrman, publisher of the Nob Hill Gazette, a must-read for local social news; Kimberly Bakker of the SF Colonial restaurant; fashonista Joy Venturini Bianchi; New Yorker and interior designer Robert Marinelli; Connie and Bob Lurie; Dr. Barry Barron and Connie Goodrich Barron; and of course opera supporter Jeannik Littlefield with daughter-in-law Sandy Littlefield in an Asian-inspired YSL gown with a 3-foot train that she found in France.
While the women dressed to the hilt, only a few men braved it in white tie. During intermission, one gentleman lamented nostalgically, “Before, at openings, everyone wore white tie…now there are only a few.” First nights have always exuded old world glamour – all those boxes, seemingly inherited from one generation to the next.
More of the crowd: Production sponsor Barbro and Bernard Osher (Butterfield & Butterfield auction house owner who sold to Ebay); music supporters Timothy and Athena Troxel Blackburn; donors Eleni and Markos Koupoulos; donors Sofia and Angelo Tsakopoulos; Susie and Pat McBaine, of the Opera Board; Dagmar and Ray Dolby (Dolby Sound); the irrepressible Bella Farrow; Patsy Pope; Board member Diane Knowles; James Ho; vintners John and Sue Gallo; Chandra and Robert Friese; John Wright and Marsha Monro Wright; realtor Joel Goodrich; Supervisor Aaron Peskin; Debra and Richard Carpeneti; Vera Carpeneti; Julie and Robert Flood; Sees Candy CEO Charles Huggins and wife Donna Ewald Huggins; Mary and Bill Poland; New Yorker Wes Carroll, who announced he will open the Graff Jewels store in Beverly Hills soon.
After the performance, guests headed to the Oasis Pavilion, created by event designer Robert Fountain. It consisted of four separate Moroccan- inspired tents, each with its unique décor in vibrant colors of sapphire, ruby, emerald and gold (fabricated in India where they know color) and incredible chandeliers.
A lavish post-performance dinner, catered by Dan McCall included Chilled Minted Apple Cucumber Soup and Grape Leaf Dolma; Summer Melon and Jicama Salad tossed with olives, feta, mint and citrus vinaigrette; Grilled Moroccan Spiced Sonoma Lamb Chops; and Coupe “Rossini” composed of strawberry sorbet, fresh berries, and mascarpone cream with strawberry coulis; and served with Beaulieu wine and Champagne Laurent-Perrier.
Revelers danced to the rhythms of the Earl Heckscher Orchestra, while drivers waited on the limo-lined streets nearby, as the merriment continued into the wee hours.
On the next day, the 32nd annual Opera in the Park was performed in Golden Gate Park. More than 20,000 opera lovers brought blankets and enjoyed selections from the fall opera season.
The Sunday tradition takes place every year after the season opener and is free, thanks to the San Francisco Chronicle and the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, who underwrote the al fresco performance. Opera is for everyone!