San Francisco Social Diary: A Trio of Openings

View from Presidio Heights near Swig home.


Some fortunate San Francisco Opera patrons got a sneak peak at the new American opera, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, at the home of art patron Roselyn Swig. Based on Amy Tan’s bestseller, this bold opus will premier in the fall of 2008.

At NY’s Asia Society Fall performance: Amy Tan and Stewart Wallace.

Catalyst and producer of the project is Shanghai-born Sarina Tang, who manages to keep in constant motion as she jets between her homes in New York, Italy, and Hong Kong for her many art related projects.

How did all this come about? Well, Sarina and Amy are long-time friends from their days at Yaddo, the well-known artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Sarina hosted a party for the publication of Amy’s book, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, which examines the secret lives of three generations of Chinese-American women, and is the latest in Tan’s growing list of bestsellers, including The Joy Luck Club (also a movie), The Kitchen God’s Wife, and the children’s book The Moon Lady.

For the occasion, Sarina asked her good friend Stewart Wallace (Harvey Milk opera) to compose a little something based on Tan’s book, inspiring the idea of an opera.

NY’s Asia Society on Park Avenue, site of Bonesetter presentation.

Some time later, Sarina invited these friends to celebrate her birthday in Shanghai. On that trip, Wallace discovered traditional Chinese musical instrumentation, and influenced by Beijing Opera percussionist Li Zhonghua, created his concept for the opera which integrated American and Chinese musical idioms. Naturally, Amy is writing the libretto and Chinese-born Chen Shi-Zheng will add just the right note as director.

The saga continues when, last fall at New York’s Asia Society on Park Avenue, the Citigroup sponsored “Series on Asian Arts and Cultures” featured an evening entitled “Discussion and Opera Work-in-Progress, The Bonesetter’s Daughter.”

Flying in from Beijing, mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao and opera star Qian Yi joined Li Zhonghua to perform a selection of arias followed by discussions on the making of this unique work.

According to SFO General Director David Gockley, “These themes are very relevant to present-day America and will find a rich and powerful expression in an opera that bridges time, distance, and culture.”

The plans are to take the production to Beijing after San Francisco, so if you love being involved from the get-go, now’s the time to jump in and support this innovative project.

Presidio Heights homes.

Bonesetter’s Daughter composer Stewart Wallace and Amy Tan.

Qian Yi, Amy Tan, and Zheng Cao.

Amy Tan and SFO General Director David Gockley.

Author Amy Tan and producer Sarina Tang.

Zheng Cao, Gordon Getty, Amy Tan, and Sarina Tang.

Beijing opera star Qian Yi.


One afternoon I headed to the newly expanded San Francisco Westfield Shopping Centre, located downtown on Market Street and Fifth, to shop at the new Bloomingdale’s. With over 350,000 square feet, it is the second-largest store in the chain after its Manhattan flagship. The black-and-white checkerboard marble floors, and everything brand-spanking-new make it such a smart place to shop.

My friends raved about the glamorous grand opening. Even Chairman and CEO Michael Gould flew out to celebrate with over 1,300 revelers, who feasted on a sumptuous cocktail buffet catered by Dan McCall and clapped their hands to jazz and some music from Grammy winning trumpeter Chris Botti.

With the help of Bloomies PR maven Ann Keating, the evening benefited the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Children’s Cancer Program, one of the top children’s hospitals in California.

Shop till you drop then hop on the Trolley.

Publicist Gretchen DeWitt said there were so many acceptances they had to close the RSVPs. The gala evening was chaired by a hardworking committee: Nanci and Gary Fredkin, Pam and Dr. Richard Glogau, Jan and Peter Harris (former CEO of FAO Schwartz), Leigh and Bill Matthes, Cathy and Mike Podell, and Beatie Lazard Seidenberg. Barbara and Gerson Bakar and Francis Bowes served as honorary chairs.

Bloomies’ new fashion director, Stephanie Solomon, had been in the city earlier checking out the local fashion and vowing to support local designers – she had already added designs by Colleen Quen.

The newly expanded Westfield mega-mall was years in the making because of demands from preservation minded San Francisco groups. Personally, I’m happy they retained the historic façade of the turn-of-the-century Emporium Department Store and the famous rotunda too, sets it apart from other malls.

The Market Street location makes it easy to catch a trolley around town, or you can cross the street and ride the Cable Car so you don’t have to drive. Also, there’s valet parking so there’s no need to hunt for those non-existent parking spaces.

Now, the Westfield is a veritable mecca for all fashionistas west of the Sierra Nevadas boasting over 170 boutiques such as Theory, Mango, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, J. Crew’s Madewell, Bebe and Furla.

At the end of a day of shopping, you can lounge in the Burke Williams day spa or take in a movie at the nine-theater Century Theatres Cineplex, or stock up at Bristol Farms specialty groceries, which has made those downtown dwellers ecstatic.

And then there are the gourmet Food Emporium where you can sample every imaginable cuisine, like Breadbar, and a floor full of The Restaurant Collection including NY celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s ‘Wichcraft. Westfield’s garnered such rave reviews, it’s bound to lure even die-hard mall haters.

Bloomingdale’s retained historic Emporium facade.

Preserved rotunda dome atop newest SF’s shopping hub.

Alan Svenson, Bloomies SF Gen Manager, Mayor Newsom, and Michael Gould, Bloomies Chairman and CEO.

Nanci Fredkin, Michael Gould, Kathi Podell, Barbara Bass Bakar, and Pam Glogau.

Michael Gould with Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne and Nick Graham.

Publicist Gretchen de Witt.

Trumpeter Chris Botti and NY’s Ann Keating of Bloomingdale’s.

Honorary chairs Barbara Bass Bakar and Gerson Bakar.

Jackie Fuld and Gavin Newsom.

Chris Botti entertains young fans.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Christopher Silva, CEO and Pres of St Francis Winery.

SF Bloomingdale’s, largest outside NYC, dominates Westfield’s hi-tech atrium.

Bloomingdale’s Mission Street entrance.

The old beside the new.


SFer’s are very creative about recycling.

One of the beauties of San Francisco is the charming neighborhoods scattered around the city. Sacramento Street in Pacific Heights is one such neighborhood, lined with wonderful little restaurants, boutiques, and even an old time Movie house.

Birch, a smart-looking floral shop, owned by Torryne Choate and Errin Rosenow (with 26 years of experience between them) recently opened on Sacramento Street near the Presidio, to the neighbors’ delight. Torryne’s daughter Canada Choate was there to help.

The shop is ever so chic with its black on black interior offsetting their sophisticated floral bouquets, some in floating Lucite trays, and an array of gift items too. Everyone was duly impressed.

Gretchen Leach and Barclay.

To announce its opening, a very pregnant Alexis Traina (aka Mrs. Trevor Traina), and PR maven Allison Spear invited friends for “a decadent afternoon of tea, to-die-for flowers, and old fashioned sweets.” Alexis loved the florist’s creativity so much that she used them for her Napa Valley summer wedding last August.

Her mother, Elizabeth Swanson (of Swanson Vineyards) arrived early and was snapping photos of the flowers for ideas as she loves to garden at her Napa Valley estate. I spotted her last summer, with her watering can in hand, tending the flowers at Napa’s Lincoln Theater, where she is involved.

The guests, all pretty young things, many young mothers, came casually dressed to sip and see. In the crowd: my house guest Nini Ferguson, a lobbyist from Washington D.C., Dede Wilsey (Alexis’ mother-in-law), Pam Kramlich, Claiborne Swanson, Astrid Murray, Suzanne and Alexis Levit, Sloan Barnett, Gretchen Leach, and Emily Martin, who is the granddaughter of dynamo Nancy Holmes of San Antonio.

Birch – floral shop and then some.

Alexis Traina with owners Errin Rosenow and Torryne Choate.

Ali Spear, Alexis Traina, and Sloan Barnett.

Floral eye candy.

Ali Spear and Nini Ferguson from Washington DC.

Karina Houghton and Nicki Winter.

Who says fire and water don’t mix.

Gumballs galore.

Much more than flowers.

Suzanne and Alexis Levit.

Astrid Murray and Ali Speer.

Alexis Swanson Traina, Claiborne Swanson, and Torryne Choate.

Jeans and boots – the style of the day.

Fab Colors.


Photographs by Drew Alitizer, Jeanne Lawrence, Heather Wiley, and Tom Gibbons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *