San Francisco Social Diary: 94th Annual San Francisco Opera Gala

For its 94th season, San Francisco Opera’s annual gala featured a French theme to match its opening show Andrea Chénier, including lighting up City Hall like the French flag.


The San Francisco event you absolutely don’t want to miss is the annual Opera opening night gala in September, a thrilling kickoff for the philanthropic, social, and cultural season. I’ve seen many grand events in cities around the world — and none outclass this one.

In 2016, as always, opera aficionados packed the house, and the audience — bejeweled, begowned, and betuxed (if there isn’t such a word, there should be) — put on a show that for style and beauty was equal to the fabulous performance we saw onstage.

The season began with Italian composer Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. Musical Director Nicola Luisotti and Director David McVicar led an international roster of performers in the story of a tragic love triangle based loosely on events of the French Revolution.

The beaux arts San Francisco City Hall was built in 1915, with fellow beaux arts masterpiece the Opera House built across the street only 17 years later.

The stunning work by set designer Robert Jones and costumer Jenny Tiramani gave the performance a sense of grandeur and luxury reflective of pre-revolution France.


This was the inaugural season for the newly appointed Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock, who has been with the SF Opera for a decade, most recently serving as Associate General Director since 2008.

After 10 years, the former General Director, David Gockley, stepped down upon the close of the last season, before which he had been with the Houston Grand Opera from 1972 to 2005. His departure was feted with a joyful “Celebrating David!” gala in June.

New Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock and his wife Kate Shilvock.

Former Opera Director David Gockley and his wife Linda Kemper.


Opera Guild Co-Chairs Sandra Farris and Patricia Sprincin created an opulent evening inspired by the opera’s French theme. At an al fresco cocktail reception in the Opera Ball Pavilion Courtyard, 700 guests sipped cocktails and of course flutes of champagne.

Mingling with the crowd were models dressed like members of Marie Antoinette’s court, complete with powdered wigs and gowns and leading three handsome standard poodles.

Opera Guild Co-Chair Patricia Sprincin, Guild President Charlot Malin, and Guild Co-Chair Sandra Farris.

Keith Geeslin, President of the San Francisco Opera Association, with his wife Priscilla, a member of the Gala Honorary Committee.

Opening Weekend Grand Sponsor Dede Wilsey, with Boaz Mazor.

The evening’s event stylist, J. Riccardo Benavides, led French poodles around the gardens.

With 700 attendees, a champagne cart was a clever way to keep guests’ glasses full.

Great Benefactor Circle members Cynthia and John Gunn.

John and Lisa Grotts.

Robert Arnold-Kraft, Heather Preston, Mary Beth Shimmon, and David Shimmon.

Honorary Committee members Carol and Dixon Doll.

Jeffrey Weisman and Jeanne Lawrence.

Hanne Vastveit and Justin Fichelson.

Sean Lydster with his mother Rosalina Lydster.

Former Opera Chair Jane Mudge, with Val Karruck.

Celeste and Michael Bobroff.

Barbro and Bernard Osher.


Though San Franciscans know how to do casual (after all, Levi Strauss introduced blue jeans here), it’s traditional for the ladies to look their most glamorous on Opera night, often taking a cue from the work being performed. With this year’s opera set at the time of the French Revolution, some of the women wore ball gowns that would have fit right in at Versailles.

Former Opera Chair Karen Kubin and fashion designer Yuka Uehara, who designed Karen’s dress.

Jim and Stephanie Marver.

Former Opera Chair Teresa Medearis, and Mark Medearis.

Ray Scotty Morris and Heide Betz.

Honorary Committee members Gaurav Garg and Komal Shah.

Navid Armstrong’s (right) confectionary gown fit right in with the Marie Antoinette models.

Former opera chair Ann Girard, with Daniel Girard.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz, and his wife, SF Protocol Chief Charlotte Shultz.

Nazan Orr, Clara Shayevich, and Joel Goodrich.

Pamala and Ted Deikel.


Dinner was served in a blue tented pavillion adjacent to the War Memorial Opera House, decorated to match the opulent historical style of the opera.

McCalls Catering served crab salad and short ribs, but departed from the French theme to serve wines from the nearby Napa Valley (otherwise we might have had our own revolution!): Roederer Estate, Ram’s Gate Chardonnay, and J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon.

I loved the soft, draped ceiling combined with the lush look and plush comfort of tan banquette sofas.

Period-referencing details included Louis XIII cognac bottles, chandeliers, and opera books.

The entrée was Short Rib Pot-au-Feu paired with California vegetables.

There wasn’t a bit of dessert, Profiterole au Chocolat, left on our plates.

Great Benefactor Circle member Denise Littlefield Sobel, with Christine Suppes.

Dan and Shannon Cronan, daughter of Gala Co-Chair Sandra Farris.

Richard Hilton, Kathy Hilton, Alan Malouf, Elisa Stephens, and Ed Conlon.

Komal Shah, Barbara Brown, and Carolyn Chang.

Joy Venturini Bianchi and Brenda Zarate.

Honorary Committee members Paula and Bandel Carano.

Deepa Pakianathan.

Jill Pietrowiak, Lois Lehrman, founder of the Nob Hill Gazette, and Ali Grosslight.


On the way to the Opera House, guests were treated to a striking sight: City Hall bathed in the blue, white, and red colors of the French flag.

A capacity crowd of 3,100 watched General Director Matthew Shilvock’s inaugural production.

US House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and husband Paul Pelosi.

Opera Guild Board Member Vera Carpeneti.

Alexis Gordon, Larissa Archer, and Lyla Holdstein.

Gail Glasser, Harvey Glasser, Jeanne Lawrence, and Jeffry Weisman.


Andrea Chénier was first performed at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala in 1896. It was composed by Italian Umberto Giordano, with a libretto written by Luigi Illica, who also wrote the libretti to La Bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly.

Conductor Nicola Luisotti.


Andrea Chénier is a tragic story of a love triangle between the patriotic poet Chénier, the young aristocrat Maddalena di Coigny, and Carlo Gérard, a servant who becomes a leader of the French Revolution and who controls the couple’s fate.


The production was truly international. The cast included South Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee in the title role, Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi as Maddalena, and Georgian baritone George Gagnidze as Carlo Gérard. The performance was a co-presentation with London’s Royal Opera, Covent Garden and the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing.

Yonghoon Lee as Andrea Chénier.

George Gagnidze as Carlo GĂ©rard.

J’Nai Bridges as Bersi.


After the last curtain call, patrons returned to the Opera Ball Pavilion for the after-party to catch up with friends, to dance, and to enjoy the sweet and savory treats on the buffet table.

Bay Area band Entourage kept the dance floor grooving.

David Golob, Linle Froeb, Ingrid Golob, James Froeb, Meredith Dunn, and Kempton Dunn.

Afsaneh Akhtari, with her daughter Jazmin Roper.

Philip Wilson, Linda Zider, and Gary Garabedian.

Gala Co-Chair Sandra Farris and Mike Millstein.


SF Opera, like many other local cultural institutions, is vying to attract the next generation of supporters. The BRAVO! Club, established to appeal to professionals between 21 and 40, now has 800 members.

This season’s BRAVO! Opening Night Gala, co-chaired by Lauren Groff and Kari Lincks, was filled with formally dressed young people. After the performance, they danced the night away and enjoyed an open bar and hors d’oeuvres — and I imagine they stayed out much later than the many of the opera patrons.

The BRAVO! after-party was held in the Green Room at the Veterans Building.

BRAVO! Club Board of Directors: Victoria Weatherford, Shannon Eliot, Susan Walker, Gala Co-Chair Lauren Groff, Kyle Brisby, Gala Co-Chair Kari Lincks, and Rachel Lem.

Anastasia Polakis, Julia Mathis, Susan Walker, and Shannon Eliot.

Christopher Schneider, Jennifer Schneider, Kim Pham, and John Muldoon.

Suzi Sim, Michelle Tung, Ronald Thai, and Joyce Sakata.

J’nai Gaither, Catherine Meng, Kevin Yeh, Nida Vidutis, and Ryan McGinley-Stempel.

Chak Nanga, Veronica Sibley, Debbie Hom, and Matthew Parker.

Elba McIntosh, Rich Hanig, and Simone Derayeh.

Chloe Nguyen, Alia Rashid, Arshya Vahapzadeh, and Chloe Le.

Angeli Mehrotra, Shishir Mehrotra, Alana Kleinerman, Christian Kleinerman, Melissa Clark, and Quentin Clark.

Sarena Bahad, Rachel Tsao, and Fatima Khan.

After-party guests enjoyed a DJ set, flowing cocktails, and freshly-rolled cigars.


Photos by Drew Altizer.


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