Inside The San Francisco Opera’s Glamorous Opening Ball

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The stunning David Hockney designed stage set
The stunning David Hockney designed stage set

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

The San Francisco Opera opened its 95th season on September 8 with Opera Ball 2017 at The Imperial Palace and a performance of Turandot, Puccini’s last masterpiece in British artist David Hockney’s colorful production.

I served on the honorary committee this year and was delighted to see the opening night a sold-out success. The performance of Turandot brought back the memory of 2002 opening night Opera Ball when I was co-chair and the performance was also Turandot with Hockney’s set, which was stunningly refurbished for the 2017 production. This year’s performance was truly amazing. My eyes, ears and emotions were captivated for the three-hour performance!   

Courtney Labe, Jane Mudge and Maryam Muduroglu
Courtney Labe, Jane Mudge and Maryam Muduroglu

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

The season-opening gala was presented by the San Francisco Opera Guild with co-chairs Courtney Labe and Maryam Muduroglu. The 800-guest black-tie celebration began with a cocktail reception in the foyer of the War Memorial Opera House where Dede Wilsey funded the magnificent flora decorations in the shape of dragons and peacocks; followed by an elegant dinner by McCalls Catering in the imperial palace pavilion tent adjacent to the Opera House created by event designer Riccardo Benavides. The setting within the pavilion and around the War Memorial courtyard was all in Chinese imperial-style inspired by Puccini’s opera Turandot.

Following dinner, guests returned to the Opera House for the performance of Turandot starring Martina Serafin in the title role, Brian Jagde as Calaf, Toni Marie Palmertree as Liú and Raymond Aceto as Timur. The performance was followed by a festive after-party and dancing in the pavilion.

The gorgeous decor inside the imperial-themed pavilion tent
The gorgeous decor inside the imperial-themed pavilion tent

Photo Credit: Devlin Shand for Drew Altizer Photography

This year’s opening night celebrated San Francisco Opera music director Nicola Luisotti‘s last season with the company. He was awarded the San Francisco Opera medal on stage after the performance. Maestro Luisotti’s distinguished tenure with the company includes more than 40 operas and concerts during his nine years as San Francisco Opera music director. He will leave the company for New York at the end of 2017–18 season.  

General director Matthew Shilvock and general director emeritus David Gockley thanked him for his impressive contributions. Gockley recalled the powerful impression made by Luisotti at his San Francisco Opera debut conducting Verdi’s La Forza del Destino in 2005. “With the company’s historic connection with the Italian community of San Francisco, I immediately knew that Nicola was the right person to re-establish that connection and be our music director,” Gockley said. “You surpassed all my hopes for what you might accomplish here.” Matthew Shilvock praised Luisotti’s passionate commitment to music-making and the many memorable performances he has given with San Francisco Opera. “Nicola has raised the bar to tremendous heights and all of us have benefited immeasurably from his commitment to this company and his devotion to musical excellence.”

Turandot's happy ending
Turandot’s happy ending

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Maestro gave heartfelt thanks to the community of San Francisco—which has been his home since 2009 where he led more than 230 performances including the annual opening weekend’s Opera in the Park since 2009. The Italian conductor promised he will return in the future seasons as a guest conductor.

Opera in the Park, presented in partnership with the San Francisco Chronicle, is one of San Francisco’s most cherished traditions. Established by former San Francisco Opera general director Kurt Herbert Adler in 1971, the annual Opera in the Park free concert has included legends from Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo to Beverly Sills and Marilyn Horne.

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