San Francisco Opera Ball back in full opulence for 100th anniversary

Performers dressed as flapper girls greet attendees of the San Francisco Opera Ball at City Hall. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle

“Party animal” is usually just an expression. But when Katie Jarman chaired San Francisco Opera Ball in 2005, there was a literal one in attendance.

That year’s theme was “Midnight at the Oasis,” as the opening opera was Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” and Jarman recalled, “we knew we wanted a camel for the ball to complete the mood.”

“We finally found one, Kazzy, who lived on a farm in Santa Rosa as a therapy camel,” she said. “The people got out of their cars on Van Ness Avenue one of the first things they saw was Kazzy.”

Thankfully, Kazzy was well-behaved and “didn’t spit once,” Jarman said. And the camel set the tone for the evening, which also featured such an over-the-top party design by Robert Fountain that it was documented by Food Network host Giada De Laurentiis for a segment on her series “Behind the Bash.”

Other Opera balls have seen French poodles greet patrons, fan dancers and live orange trees full of fruit. In creating this year’s entrance at the San Francisco Opera’s centenary celebration on Friday, Sept. 9, chairs Jack Calhoun and Maryam Muduroglu looked to the company’s roots.

A handful of performers dressed as 1920s flappers welcomed guests on the turquoise carpeted steps of San Francisco City Hall. They were a reminder of how much has changed in the past century but also, how the glitz of celebrations sometimes shine brighter after turmoil.

When the San Francisco Opera was founded in 1922, the city was still reeling from a world war and a different pandemic. Now as the city continues to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, guests at the first Opera Ball since 2019 seemed ready to embrace the pomp the night is known for.

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Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock and wife Kate Shilvock arrive for Friday’s celebration. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle

“After everything the last two years, tonight is going to be the party of the century,” said San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock. “I think we’re all still feeling that energy of what it means to come back and make and experience art together.”

New to the Opera Ball was San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, recently hired to take the helm after Helgi Tomasson retired from the company this year. Rojo wo n’t move to the city from London full time until December but she wanted to show her support for her colleagues at the Opera.

Joined by San Francisco Ballet Executive Director Danielle St. Germain-Gordon, who also recently took the helm in March, it was Rojo’s first time attending a non-Ballet event in the city.

“In the states, there are few operate companies with global reputations. This is one of them,” said Rojo, adding that she hopes the Ballet gets an opportunity to collaborate with the Opera in the future.

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Tanum Davis Bohen spins in her colorful gown at the Opera Ball. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle

The Opera Ball has been one of the most planned and its traditional nights on the city’s social calendar since it was first held in the summer 1941. Area.

“The Opera Ball has always been the jewel in the crown for the city and continues to be that way,” said Mary Poland, who chaired the ball in 2010. “The feedback I always get from people from Chicago and New York when they come out for the ball is, ‘Boy, do you know how to throw a party in San Francisco.’ ”

This year’s event at City Hall was designed by Blueprint Studios. Pink feather trees took pride of place on the Charlotte Maillard Shultz staircase and were a favorite selfie destination for many partygoers. Dinner by McCalls Catering & Events included peppercorn-crusted smoked salmon salad, grilled filet of beef and wild prawns, capped off with a chocolate gianduja stenciled with musical notes for dessert.

Inside the Opera House, designer Stanlee Gatti draped the box seating with flowers recreating the green, pink and purple starburst that has become a logo for the centenary season. Among the political VIPS in attendance were Mayor London Breed and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.

Attendees of the San Francisco Opera Ball sit down to dinner at City Hall. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle

Beyond the extravagance, the night’s proceeds go to the company’s funding artistic endeavors as well as education programs such as the San Francisco Opera Guild’s Voices for Social Change, Opera à la Carte, Opera Scouts and Madrigals, among other community efforts.

Calhoun estimated 900 people attended the formal dinner while an additional 360 attended the Bravo cocktail dinner party, where the Opera sold more of its top tier $10,000 tables than ever before. Although the total had not yet been finalized, Muduroglu said she believed the ball raised nearly $3 million.

See additional images from the San Francisco Opera Ball below

Mayor London Breed walks down the steps of City Hall with Dustin Sharpe. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
A crowd attends the Opera Ball’s afterparty. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
Talon Storm and Elizabeth Powell wear matching flower crowns to the Opera Ball. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
Dagmar Dolby (center) sits down to dinner at the Opera Ball. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
Performer Sorayah Handy (left) greets attendees dressed as a flapper girl as Clifford Hersh (right) arrives at the Opera Ball. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
Composer Jake Heggie (left) talks with Dede Wilsey at the Opera Ball. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
Sorayah Handy (second from right) performs as a flapper girl to greet attendees. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
Attendees outside San Francisco City Hall await the start of the Opera Ball. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis (left) and Denise Hale cross Van Ness Avenue for the performance at the War Memorial Opera House. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
Marisa Mar-Jones (left) and Breanna Salas enjoy drinks during cocktail hour. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
Attendees of the San Francisco Opera Ball walk out into the War Memorial Opera House lobby after the performance portion of the evening. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
San Francisco Opera Ball co-chair Maryam Muduroglu and Trent Norris walk down the steps of City Hall. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
Kate Tova (right) arrives at the Opera Ball. Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle



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