Glamorous and well attended “Forbidden City” themed gala celebrates the opera’s opening night and donates proceeds to the SF Opera’s ARIA music education programs for Bay Area students.

S.F. Opera’s opening gala a resplendent red smash

By Catherine Bigelow – San Francisco Chronicle, September 12, 2011

Positioned just 24 hours prior to the world premiere of “Heart of a Soldier” and 48 hours after the San Francisco Symphony’s Centennial celebration, the San Francisco Opera’s 89th opening-night gala Friday was no mere placeholder on the city’s inaugural fall arts and social season calendar.

The swell soiree, An Evening in the Forbidden City, unfolded at the Opera House and City Hall where some 1,200 Opera Ball patrons and Bravo! members joyfully promenaded in a peacock’s parade of top hats, tails and cascading tulle trains.

That theme was the perfect palette for swans, many of whom chose regal red as their hue du jour and accessorized glamorous gowns (Oscar de la Renta, Alexander McQueen, Karen Caldwell, Lily Samii) with dazzling hot rocks for their sartorial swirl during cocktails amid the marble splendor of the Opera House foyer.

But former Secretary of State George Shultz, there with his missus, Protocol Chief Charlotte Shultz, stuck with the tried-and-true as he expertly demonstrated the unfurling of a top hat.

“I guess you could say it’s vintage,” he said, with laugh. “There were so many white-tie dinners during the Nixon administration that I finally invested in my own top hat.”

Of course, there was actual opera, too. And that beloved Puccini chestnut, “Turandot,” conducted by Music Director Nicola Luisotti and starring David Hockney’s eye-popping sets, proved a pitch-perfect opener for S.F. Opera General Director David Gockley.

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