Opening Night at the Opera carries the weight of anticipation of a truly swank event: black or white tie for the gents, fabulous finery for the gals, glamour all around. Following the Symphony’s 100th Anniversary Gala on Wednesday, many wondered if the swells had any more gala in them, but they underestimated San Franciscan’s penchant for party. With a few exceptions, our divas may have held onto the best dress for Friday, when the Opera house ballooned with colorful and patterned ball gowns as vibrant as the whimsical David Hockney (rhymes with contract-renewed David Gockley) costumes onstage. (You didn’t think this article was about the admittedly amazing performance of Puccini’s Turandot, did you? Neither did the audience…) Robert Fountain’s block-long tent draped in miles of rouge created the chamber for Imperial Princesses of all shapes and sizes (mostly size 4, although 14 was more Turandot-like) to hold sway and interrogate their suitors and courtiers with questions about diadems and designers. Designed to evoke a royal Chinese treasure trove, the ravishing room was adorned with large ancestral portraits, gilded Entombed Warriors, and gorgeous raspberry orchids, lit from within with constellations of paper lanterns. McCall’s Catering matched the lavish mood with a decadent dinner that conveyed a hint of Asian flavor but recognized the reality of an Italian opera on Opening Night. And what an opera it was, a revived chestnut that still managed to beguile its audience into rapt attention with its luscious singing and wildly imaginative production. Guests gathered for cocktails and dinner in the tent or City Hall beforehand, a new (and wiser) format which made stomachs settle in to enjoy the lavish evening with more leisure. While most of the Box set summoned their palanquin bearers by the time the ardent applause brought down the curtain on Nicola Luisotti’s captivating conducting, those who remained for the afterparty for Benefactors and Bravos were treated to dim sum, mini lamb chops, and just enough sweets to satiate. The mood remained upbeat as the crowd got down with a decidedly determined beat of Bill Hopkins’ Rockin’ Orchestra, dancing and delighting themselves to celebrate and sustain the magnificent Opera that graces our own Imperial City.
The gestures and gowns were grand: Dede Wilsey, who sponsored the entire Opening Weekend including Sunday’s free Opera in the Park performance, Saturday’s premiere of Heart of a Soldier, and the stunning red swags of flowers ringing the box seats in the Opera House, looked utterly ravishing in a candy pink Oscar de la Renta gown embroidered with Chinese motifs and edged with ostrich feathers and diamond buttons, accompanied by Oscar’s right-hand man Boaz Mazur; Oscar also adorned Auxiliary President Ann Girard, who matched the motif in regal red brocade, Diane Rubin in a warm silvery gray, Dagmar Dolby in green and blue intarsia, and Carol Doll in black lace overlay, each to their own excellent effect. Marissa Mayer brought down the house in remarkable hot pink brocade McQueen, the label which also adorned Elizabeth Theriot in green gauzy chiffon. Local lovely Karen Caldwell had dozens of delights on display, her distinctive narrow silhouettes and draping showing many celestial bodies to advantage. Her apple-green goddess gown deliciously draped Maria Manetti Farrow, whose generous contribution to support Italian opera with vintner Jann Schrem was announced as the evening began. Joy Venturini Bianchi revived an exquisite mid-century Balenciaga in French blue with a bodice of breathtaking Lesage beading, and Clara Shayevich also appeared in a stunning one-shouldered Balenciaga of burgundy silk velvet; Charlotte Shultz’ brown and black Naeem Kahn held its own, as did Lucy Buchanan in Kahn’s black-and-white chinoiserie stunner. Kathy Hilton came up with husband Rick as the guest of Alan Malouf and wore a lovely vintage Valentino to view. Many new and lesser known designers also made their mark; as long as it looked wonderful there was less emphasis on label for the look. Lovely lookers included Event Co-Chairs Anne Marie Massocca in ruby and Susan Tamagni in equally gorgeous green, Stephanie Tuttle in architectural Alexander Wang, Karen Sutherland in a gorgeous slink of midnight blue, the elegant Jeannik Littlefield for whom the Opera was all, Sheryl Baxter, Teresa Medearis, Olivia Hsu Decker, Chandra Friese, Mary Poland, Charlot Malin, Dr. Afsaneh Akhtari, who never ceases to stun, and Amber Marie Bently hosting a gorgeous, gregarious gaggle of girlfriends. Paula Carano captivated in a purple confection from Ricky Serbin Haute, while Donna Sachet stole the show with her column of purple adorned with the most enviable earrings of the evening. Nicely noted were Lora du Bain’s memorable mermaid, Mai Shiver’s silver slink, and Sonia Molodetskaya’s breathtaking breastplate of Reveti jewels. Bravo Co-Chairs Marie Carr’s hot pink Chinese embroidery and Kelly Krueger’s purple column both made waves and raves. Along with many, many other candidates for cooing, (you know who you are!) the color and content of the evening was truly one of enthusiastic and operatic proportions. For preening and Peking, the evening was practically perfect.