An Exciting Preview Of The San Francisco Opera’s Opulent Evening

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The San Francisco Opera performing Strauss’ “Arabella”
The San Francisco Opera performing Strauss’ “Arabella”

Photo Credit: The San Francisco Opera/Cory Weaver/Michael Cooper

On Friday, September 7, San Francisco’s glitterati will come out in full force to celebrate the opening night of the San Francisco Opera’s 96th season. With an Argentine theme, ¡Viva La Noche!, Opera Ball 2018, promises to be a thrilling evening that delights and surprises. The opening performance is a double bill presentation of one-act operas, Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (most commonly referred to as Cav/Pag). Although Cav/Pag is traditionally set in Italy, Argentine tenor, conductor, and director José Cura sets the classic stories in Buenos Aires’ most colorful neighborhood, La Boca. San Franciscans last heard Cav/Pag 15 years ago but this will be the first time they’ve seen this staging. “The production is a wonderfully colorful encapsulation of Buenos Aires. It’s set on the Caminito street, in the Boca district, and the set is a recreation of that street,” Matthew Shilvock, the SF Opera’s General Director, recently told Haute Living. “You have all of these high buildings with windows, apartments that chorus members are appearing out of, nosily looking at what’s happening on the street below as this tragedy unfolds. I love the way that this production very subtly interweaves the spirit of Argentina into this Mediterranean pair of stories. There is even a little bit of tango in the operas. It’s done very subtly, but I think it will connect wonderfully to what the chairs are doing for the ball.”

The 2018 Opera Ball chairs Shannon Cronan (in Oscar de la Renta) and Kathy Huber (in Carolina Herrera). Both women are wearing Shreve & Co. jewelry. The jeweler is an official jewelry sponsor of the ball. Neiman Marcus, where Huber’s dress is from, is the dinner sponsor for the event.
The 2018 Opera Ball chairs Shannon Cronan (in Oscar de la Renta) and Kathy Huber (in Carolina Herrera). Both women are wearing Shreve & Co. jewelry. The jeweler is an official jewelry sponsor of the ball. Neiman Marcus, where Huber’s dress is from, is the dinner sponsor for the event.

Photo Credit: Jason Wells

Shilvock is referring to Shannon Cronan and Kathy Huber, the co-chairs, friends, and masterminds behind ¡Viva La Noche! Neither women are new to SF’s philanthropic circles; Cronan chaired the ballet opening gala in 2007 and Huber was in charge last January at the ballet’s 2018 opening. Both are longtime members of the Opera Guild and are excited to put their stamp on one of the West Coast’s most prominent philanthropic events. “Our chairs are philanthropic professionals, so they are just hitting the ground running,” Jane Mudge, the Opera Guild’s president, says. “Both have chaired major events in San Francisco, and they know how to get the job done. They’re having fun with it, and I look forward to the incredible design concepts they are going to come up with. The execution of the night is gonna be amazing.”

The table settings at last year's ball
The table settings at last year’s ball

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

The duo is working with event producer J. Riccardo Benavides to realize their vision for the evening. Huber recently traveled to Buenos Aires with Benavides in search of inspiration for the decor and design. “Our planning begins with setting the tone of the event through the design of our invitation, which is being created by custom stationery designer Cheree Berry,” Huber explains. “The interior of the Opera Ball tented pavilion will transport our guests to a place that sets the mood for what is to unfold at the Opera. In keeping up with the performance, guests will have an Argentinian experience in the fabulous tent, both while dining and when they return to the after party.” McCalls Catering and Events will prepare the Argentine-inspired pre-show dinner. Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards is the new wine sponsor, and Roederer Estate will provide sparkling wine. Following Cav/Pag, the guests will return to the pavilion to dance the night away to the beloved local cover band, Pop Rocks.

Matthew Shilvock
Matthew Shilvock

Photo Credit: The San Francisco Opera

While the Opera Ball is a glamorous and over-the-top extravaganza, it is much more than a social event; it’s an affair that aims to create a better San Francisco. By engaging new patrons and providing arts education to the next generation of leaders and philanthropists, the Opera Ball and the powerful team of movers and shakers behind it strives for a brighter time. “Although it’s a wonderful social occasion and gathering of the community, it does benefit the future, which is education and children,” Mudge says. “Our proceeds directly support the community, and that’s important because we have the opportunity to get out there and to work with children of all different ages, from the very youngest through the teens. It’s one step at a time work that supports them in their growing and changing lives. A lot of our programs have helped to transform, ultimately, who they will become. These kids are the future of our community.”

A scene from Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier” with dancers Michael Levine and Laura Alexich
A scene from Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier” with dancers Michael Levine and Laura Alexich

Photo Credit: The San Francisco Opera/Cory Weaver/Michael Cooper

If children are taught to respect and love the arts, in particular, the Opera, they will grow into adults who celebrate a highly functioning culture. This, in turn, will continue to make San Francisco and the greater Bay Area one of the best, most diverse places to live in the nation. Huber puts it like this, “The education programs fill a void that helps students express themselves, build confidence, and learn to collaborate with other students, all while developing an appreciation for music and the impact on their lives. With the cutbacks in funding for the arts, it is more important than ever that we support our local arts and preserve this part of our culture for future generations.” Mudge and the Guild are so committed to igniting a passion for the Opera in youth that, for the second year in a row, there will be a “kids table” at the opening night celebration. Mudge’s two teenage daughters will join the likes of other Opera enthusiasts’ children at their very own table inside the tent.

Jane Mudge at the 2017 Ball
Jane Mudge at the 2017 Ball

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

The ball is the ideal time for these young people and other Opera virgins to experience the art at its finest. “Opera Ball is a wonderful opportunity to introduce people to Opera, particularly this year’s opening, Cav/Pag with its two short operas, both of which feature beautiful music and highlight human emotion,” Huber says. “The incredible thing about Opera is that it combines all of the arts from music to dance to drama, and the costumes are truly works of art. How lucky to experience all of this during one performance! There isn’t another art form that can say that. There is also a human element that tugs at the emotions, while the music fills the senses.” Encouraging the audience to embrace emotion is on Shilvock’s to-do list for the upcoming season. He took control of the Opera two years ago when its previous director, opera impresario David Gockley, retired. The Opera’s lineup is planned several years in advance. Come September it will be Shilvock’s first season of programming as general director. “We want it to be a celebration, we want it to be a wonderful connection point, so we choose that opening title very carefully,” Shilvock says of Cav/Pag. “It was a very natural title for me or the pair of titles for me to choose. We hadn’t done them for a long time. They contain some incredible music. There are these two, intense, short, high emotion, explorations of the human condition. And to have both of them together is this double punch of incredible emotional intensity. It was a perfect double bill for the opening night.”

Hye Jung Lee as Ah Sing and Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon in a scene from John Adams’ “Girls of the Golden West”
Hye Jung Lee as Ah Sing and Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon in a scene from John Adams’ “Girls of the Golden West”

Photo Credit: The San Francisco Opera/Cory Weaver/Michael Cooper

Shilvock believes an emotional connection between the audience and the opera is crucial to the future success of the art form in San Francisco. To tap the wealth of tech titans and millennial moguls, Shilvock understands that he must provide this generation a poignant and Instagram-worthy experience. “At the end of the day, opera is about creating an incredible emotional connection. It’s about experiencing what it’s like when a father grieves over his daughter or when two young people fall in love. It’s that intimacy about opera that leave people in tears at the end of the evening of Bohème or Traviata,” he says. “That essence of opera, that immediate power of the emotional, that is what we have to find a way to sell; because that is something that, no matter who you are in the world, you can connect to.” Does he think the opera is too intimidating for the smartphone-addicted age? No. It’s quite the opposite: “I think opera is perfectly suited for that particular generation. It’s a generation that loves larger than life experiences. That loves the unique, the spectacular—and that is what we do every day on the Opera stage. What I’m excited about is building a bridge of inspiration between San Francisco’s growing audience and what we do at our very core on stage.”

Former mayor Willie Brown and Haute Living's fashion editor-at-large, Sonya Molodetskaya at last year's opening
Former mayor Willie Brown and Haute Living’s fashion editor-at-large, Sonya Molodetskaya at last year’s opening

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Ensuring that the War Memorial Opera House seats are at capacity for years to come is at the root of the Opera Ball’s missions. There is a sense of tradition that dates back to the Opera’s 1923 beginnings and the creation of the Opera House, which opened in 1932. The beautiful building is a landmark and spending time in its breathtaking atrium, dripping in history, is worth the price of any show’s ticket. It adds to the allure of the experience, something that Shilvock is quick to acknowledge. “There’s an incredible swirl of color, and energy, and vibrancy that exists in that part of what we do as well,” he says of preserving the integrity of the Opera House. “It’s a point of attraction for new audiences to engage with the Opera.”

Puccini’s “Turandot”
Puccini’s “Turandot”

Photo Credit: The San Francisco Opera/Cory Weaver/Michael Cooper

The best time to witness the Opera House in all its glory? September 7 at the Opera Ball. The opening is the launch of the cultural season in the Bay Area, and there is a sense of anticipation of and appreciation for the months to come. The fanfare, elegance, and enthusiasm in the air are magical. “There’s that wonderful sense of beginning. It marks the beginning of our journey for that particular year as an opera company,” Shilvock says. “The Ball makes a compelling and bold statement of the importance of inspiring future audiences throughout education work. It’s an incredible event. It’s full of vitality and energy. You feel this incredible love for the company from the community on that evening. It’s a great celebration of what it means to be San Francisco.”

The 96th season of the San Francisco Opera debuts with the stunning 2018 Opera Ball on Friday, September 7. The pre-performance cocktail reception and dinner start at 5 p.m. The performance of “Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci” begins at 8 pm. The after-party follows with dancing and late night snacks at 11 p.m. To purchase tickets, visit sfopera.com/operaball2018.

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