San Francisco Social Diary: San Francisco Opera Guild’s 75th Anniversary

At the San Francisco Opera Guild’s fundraiser, POPera!, famed drag queen Kotya Smirnoff Skyy and award-winning soprano Deborah Voigt performed for the glamorous, nostalgic evening.

This spring, the San Francisco Opera Guild presented POPera!, a dazzling evening of cabaret and surprises celebrating the Opera Guild’s 75th anniversary.

Held at the historic Fairmont Hotel, the event referenced the city’s glamorous past in many ways, from the invitation itself to the cocktail party in the Cirque Room, to the entertainment in the Venetian Room, where Tony Bennett debuted his iconic “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

The invitation featured this vintage photo, a General Motors advertisement from the 1950s discovered in the commemorative book, The Fairmont: The First Century of a San Francisco Landmark.

In keeping with the historical theme, some of the former chairs were present, including Associate Guild member Barbara Henry, Guild President Karen Kubin, former Fol de Rol Chair Donna Casey, 2014 Opera Ball Co-Chair Teresa Medearis, former Fol de Rol Chair Beverly Coughlin, Associate Guild member Anne Kasanin, Education Fund founder Jane Hartley; former Guild presidents Ann Girard, Diane Rubin, and Marilyn Timoney; and former Fol de Rol Chair Sarah Duryea.

Barbara Henry, Karen Kubin, Donna Casey, Teresa Medearis, Beverly Coughlin, Anne Kasanin, Jane Hartley, Ann Girard, Diane Rubin, Marilyn Timoney, Sarah Duryea.


The VIP cocktail party took place in the famed Cirque room, a popular watering hole from the ’30s to the ’50s. With its circus-themed murals, it reminded some of New York City’s Monkey Bar.

Guests were greeted by POPera Chairs Romana Bracco and Marsha Monro, 75th Anniversary Opera Guild Chair Katie Jarman, Opera Guild President Karen Kubin, VP of Fundraising Jane Mudge, and Honorary Chairs Jack Calhoun and Trent Norris.

POPera committee members Jane Mudge, Karen Kubin, Katie Jarman, Romana Bracco, and Marsha Monro.

Jack Calhoun, Daniel Girard, Ann Girard, Deborah Voigt, Jeanne Lawrence, and Trent Norris.

Cynthia Schreuder and Teresa Medearis, co-chairs of the 2014 SF Opera Opening Gala, with Riccardo Benavides of Ideas Design, event stylist for the Opening Gala.

San Francisco-based jazz singer Paula West entertained while guests enjoyed martinis and lobster hors d’oeuvres.

Daniel Girard and his wife Ann, the past SF Opera Guild President.

Dixon and Carol Doll with Haig and Connie Mardikian.

Italian Consul General Mauro Battocchi (second from right) with Romanza singers Ken Lavigne, Philip Grant, and Paul Ouellette.

Burt Inch with his mother Arlene Inch.

Chair Romana Bracco, here with Asher Berry and Mauro Battocchi, wore Armani, of course. She’s Italian!


Complying with the suggested dress code, “Cabaret Chic,” guests sported boas, sequins, and top hats.

Some attendees picked up fashions at Torso Vintages on Sutter Street, which supplied a Galanos gown and an Yves St. Laurent cape, among other finds. Others found their vintage frocks on the web.

Chair Marsha Monro wore her own ’70s-era Bill Blass cropped white tuxedo jacket and pleated black sequined chiffon skirt from the famed, now shuttered I. Magnin store. (Classics never go out of style!)

Karen Kubin was in Marc Jacobs, serendipitously; one of the auction items later that night was a Jacobs prize package.

SF Opera Association Board Member Karen Richardson, in Dolce & Gabbana, and her husband John Rubenstein; both are Silicon Valley execs.

Karl and Nafiseh Lindberg.

Pamala and Ted Deikel.

Maria Pitcairn with POPera Honorary Chairs Trent Norris and Jack Calhoun, president of Banana Republic.

Alisa Burgess-Blajwas.

Marybeth LaMotte, Doug Waggener, and Natalia Urrutia.

Jane Inch, Lisa Grotts, and Schuyler Hudak.

Deborah Sagues, Marilyn Cabak, and Chandra Friese.

Opera Guild Directors Ginny Ziegler, Stephanie Tuttle, and Linda Zider.

Mike Milstein and Sandra Farris.

Theodore Brown and Ellie Killebrew Brown.

Tracy Boxer Zill and Melissa Boxer Zill.


Since the Venetian Room couldn’t hold the crowd of more than 300 guests for a sit-down dinner, some partiers instead enjoyed table-hopping and mingling at the jazzy cocktail party and buffet spread in the Gold Room.

The Gold Room—where President Truman signed the United Nations Charter in 1945—was transformed into a dinner lounge with plush banquet-style seating.

Guests were treated to a martini bar (another vintage touch) in addition to a full bar at center stage, where you could order up anything your heart desired.

Stations scattered around the room offered a bounty of pasta, salads, hand-carved beef tenderloin, and planks of whole salmon.

There was something to please everyone’s taste buds.

SF Opera Guild Director Anne Marie Massocca and Lois Lehrman, publisher of the Nob Hill Gazette.

Gavin Delgado, Doug Waggener, and Riccardo Benavides.

Chandra and Bob Friese.

Susie McBaine and Gail Anderson.

Wilkes Bashford and Christine Hughes.

Oversized photos of past opera chairs, taken from the opera’s old Fol de Rol programs, were placed around the room. Fol de Rol was the Opera Guild’s principal fundraiser from 1950–1992. The premier black tie fundraiser of its day, it featured opera stars such as Beverly Sills, Leontyne Price, Plácido Domingo, Marilyn Horne, Birgit Nilsson, and Luciano Pavarotti, plus ballet dancers, a full orchestra, and MC’s that included Frank Sinatra and Joel Grey. Many would love to see Fol de Rol return.

Charlotte Maillard Shultz liked her photo so much she asked to take it home.

Sara Duryea with her glamour-shot blow-up.

Claire Skall struck a pose matching her poster image.

Wilkes Bashford and Donna Miller Casey, who was also featured on a vintage photo.

Along with her poster, Beverly Coughlin herself was present (third from left) along with family members Beverly Dow, Jim Coughlin, Hugh Coughlin, Chuck Dow, Linda Mussallem, Genine Lind Coughlin, and Christopher Coughlin.


Thanks go out to Union Bank President and CEO Dennis Mooradian, whose wife Susan is a SF Opera Guild Director, for his role in Union Bank’s generous appearance as Presenting Sponsor.

Romana Bracco with Luis Cortes and Joann Calonico of Marc Jacobs.

Bulgari’s Daniel Diaz with Barbara Brown.

Cathie Johnson and SF Opera Chairman Emeritus Franklin “Pitch” Johnson.

Long-time Guild supporters David and Jane Hartley with Robert Girard and Phoebe Cowles.

Robert Arnold-Kraft of Saks Fifth Avenue, Jeanne Lawrence, and Alan Morrell of Neiman-Marcus. The competitors say they get along quite well.

James Froeb, Stephanie Tuttle, Ramsey Walker, and Linle Froeb.

Cince and Paul Pringle with Nina Carroll.

Adrienne Mally, Lee Gregory, and Diane Rubin.

Quincy Firth and Robert Arnold-Kraft.

Ginny Ziegler, Natalia Urrutia, Michelle Ritchie, Guillaume Orliac, Linda Zider, and Annie Calonico.

Jeff Garelick, GM of San Francisco retail institution Wilkes Bashford, Victoria Kornblum, John Fleming, Shari Fleming, and the Wilkes Bashford.

Roberta and Rusty Holden.

Shannon Cronan, Chandra Rudd, and France Szeto.

Joe Murray and Barbara Henry.

Gail deMartini and Ronald Haan.

Charles and Nina Belle.

Marybeth LaMotte and Olivia Decker.


After dessert, the bells chimed at 8 p.m. and the POPera guests paraded downFairmont’s “Hall of Fame” into the legendary Venetian Room, which from 1947 to 1989 was considered the city’s premiere nightclub.

Show business legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Marlene Dietrich, Tina Turner, Peggy Lee, and Nat King Cole were among the regular performers in The Venetian Room.

Among singers I’ve heard in this venue were Leona Horne and Barbie Benton, and my dinner partner, haberdasher Wilkes Bashford, recalled being in the audience here for Sammy Davis Jr. Afterward, Davis invited Bashford’s group, which included Willie Brown and the late Herb Caen, to his suite, where he personally cooked an Italian dinner for them.

Crooner Tony Bennett debuted his song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in the Venetian Room on December 27, 1961.

In February 2012, Bennett returned to the Venetian Room to perform his ode to the City by the Bay in a charity benefit for UCSF Medical Center.

Grammy Award-winning soprano Deborah Voigt hosted the evening, which combined classical, popular, and Broadway musical performances. Everyone on the bill knocked it out of the park.

In addition to hosting, Deborah Voigt performed a selection of opera songs.

Tony Award-winner Lillias White stepped in to replace Laura Benanti, who had to cancel due to the flu.

The audience welcomed Jonathan Groff of the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening and the smash Fox series Glee, now starring in HBO’s new series, Looking.

Guests enjoyed the risqué Bay Area drag queen Countess Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, who presented her unique blend of opera and comedy.

The Canadian tenor trio Romanza is known for its harmony, humor, and charm.

Romanza showed its sense of humor in a trio of Tex-Mex costumes.

The crowd rose to its feet for the grand finale.

Event stylist Riccardo Benavides designed the Venetian Room with silver silk slipcovers and tablecloths as well as vintage-style table lamps.

The cabaret-style seating was ideal for an evening of entertainment.

The clever show was produced and directed by Marilyn Levinson of Bay Area Cabaret, now celebrating 10 years in the Venetian Room. Her uncle, James Schwabacher, was one of the founders of the Merola Opera in SF. I was happy to learn that Bay Area Cabaret is continuing the tradition of live performances in this classic venue with its “Venetian Evenings” series. We applaud that too.

Katie Jarman with Marilyn Levinson, founding executive producer of Bay Area Cabaret, and Aaron Levinson.

Deborah Voight and Katya Smirnoff-Skyy hammed it up after their performances.


What’s a benefit without a live auction? Paddles went up quickly for the very competitive auction featuring irresistible packages.

The auctioneer, Lenny Broberg, whose day job is as a youth guidance counselor for the SF Police Department, led fast-paced and energetic bidding. He could certainly measure up to any at the big auction houses.

The New York package included a trip to the Big Apple with airfare, hotel, and front row tickets to a Marc Jacobs runway show during Fashion Week in September.

The NY prize also included a Marc Jacobs outfit and a 1984 Marc Jacobs crocodile handbag worth $26,000.

The winners of the bid on the Grand Italian Escape got business-class airfare and two nights at Villa d’Este plus a one-week stay at Villa Laura, where Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed.

The auction prize of Grand Benefactor tickets to the 2014 Opera Opening Night Extravaganza also included a Wilkes Bashford-exclusive Donald Deal gown for her and an Ermenegildo Zegna made-to-measure tuxedo for him.

In addition to the auction prizes, there was a raffle for a Serpentine Collection watch from Bulgari jewelry house.

Daniel Diaz of Rome-based Bulgari placed the prize on the wrist of the winner. It happened to be an Italian patron, which prompted us to jokingly cry out, “It’s fixed!”

This evening achieved its goal: to recreate the elegance of another era and set the tone for the annual SF Opera Opening Night Gala in September—one of the most glamorous of the city’s events.


Photos by Drew Altizer.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.

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