Woman of Substance, Karen Kubin: The Innovative Impresario of the San Francisco Opera Guild


It was La Bohème that first made her a die-hard
opera fan. Ever since she wandered into a local movie theater in Granada Hills, Calif. during her high school years and caught a film adaptation of Puccini’s iconic four-act masterpiece, Karen Kubin has had a grand passion for opera. It is why she has faithfully served on the board of the San Francisco Opera Guild since 2003 and why today, she is the Guild’s president.
Although she is proud of her new role, the position was not always one she desired. Luckily, her fellow board members convinced her to reconsider.
“Last year I was asked to consider serving as president. Considering the scope of the job, I initially said no — a couple of times, in fact. fortunately, several board members changed my no to a yes,” Kubin, who also doubles as a lawyer at the firm of Morrison Foerster, says.
There’s no doubt that she’s the right woman for the job given how ardent she is about opera. Speaking of her favorite work, also by Puccini, she recalls: “I saw La Rondine performed by Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna at the Metropolitan Opera while they were still married. In the end, when she left him, he was crying and you could actually see his tears flowing. It was so, so sad. It’s the most romantic opera.”
Kubin’s clear attachment to the operatic arts is just one reason that her two-year tenure as Guild president will be a success; her innovative ideas and commitment to education are others.
“Broadly speaking, I hope to leave the Guild even stronger than it was when I took over as president. We’re well on our way to doing that” Kubin, an award-winning lawyer at the firm of Morrison Foerster, says proudly, adding, “We’re doing that by making strategic hires that will enhance our education program immeasurably and trying to mix things up to attract new support for the program.”
Kubin hopes the Guild will attract a broader range of people by mixing in different talent, such as with the fashion-opera crossover event hosted by Jason Wu and Neiman Marcus in March. “It was the first of its kind, and I was just thrilled with the response we got. It was a cocktail party and a short 15-minute presentation of Jason’s 2013 fall collection. It was a spectacular event, lots of new people in attendance, lots of buzz. I want to make the Opera Guild and the work we do relevant in today’s world so that we can share our sustainability moving forward.”


If the hybrid fashion event could be considered spectacular, then just wait to see what Kubin has in store for the San Francisco Opera Guild’s 75th anniversary next year. Though she is cagey about revealing too much, she will say that it’s going to be bigger than anything the Opera has ever done before.
Prior to the January 19, 2014 anniversary, the Guild will do something unprecedented, and host a dinner onstage at the War Memorial Opera House this December. “It will be an elegant, intimate evening,” Kubin promises. “Overall, we want to celebrate all that the Opera Guild has accomplished as we move towards 100.”
She is also celebrating the San Francisco Opera’s 91st season, which opened on Sept. 6 with a ‘Garden of Good and Evil’-themed ball, conceived by celebrity designer Colin Cowie.
Even in the hiring of Cowie, who made his Bay Area debut planning the gala, Kubin shows her innovative spirit and ability to keep things fresh. She is a critical figure in the Opera’s evolution, bringing youth, vitality and a new audience to enjoy her favorite art form.
“I like to think outside the box, and I don’t worry about failure. I think that’s how one accomplishes things, by taking risks and not worrying about failing,” she says.
Instead of focusing on failure, Kubin determinedly thinks about success. “I love to win cases and I love to help shape the law, but what gives me the greatest satisfaction is nurturing young people and helping them realize their dreams,” she proclaims. “There’s a common theme in what I do: education, music, and young people. I’ve been able to marry these interests through working with these organizations in a very fulfilling way.”
Kubin is a woman who enjoys variety, who excels in both career and philanthropy. In addition to her work with the Opera Guild, she’s also on the board of trustees of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the San Francisco Girls Chorus as well as a former member of the San Francisco Art institute. She is a woman who adores her Chanel, but is as equally as enthusiastic about Stephen Webster’s rock-glam baubles: a woman who professes to adore local neighborhood eateries, but at the same time loves to dine at upscale restaurants like the Balboa Café.
Though she is multi-faceted in her interests, one thing in her life remains constant, and that is, and always will be, her love of opera. “Opera is to San Francisco,” she says, “as oxygen is to life”.