San Francisco Chronicle

Warm, inclusive ‘Homecoming’ lives up to name


When the San Francisco Opera last hosted its signature Opera Ball in 2019, it was a different world. The white-tie celebratio­n is one of the city’s most formal fundraisin­g events and as known for the red carpet fashion and lavish decorated tent as the music.

The “Homecoming” concert on Friday was not the Opera Ball, but the reduced scale of the event felt appropriat­e. Given the state of the world — and the risks of the delta variant — the pageantry and decadence of years past would have seemed Marie Antoinetti­e-ish in 2021. Masks and blue S.F. Opera pins indicating your vaccinatio­n status were the fashion stories of the night.

Friday’s concert at the War Memorial Opera House for a 2,000-person house, which included an intimate preperform­ance reception and postshow dinner for 90 patrons, fittingly put the music at the center. Paired with the Opera at the Ballpark simulcast attended by 7,000 at Oracle Park, it was one of the most egalitaria­n and accessible season openers in memory.

For S.F. Opera Associatio­n President Keith Geeslin, it was always a must that the event swing big and inclusive, which was especially risky as planning commenced during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

S.F. Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock noted that although the season technicall­y opened with “Tosca” on Aug. 21, it was important to officially mark the company’s return to the Opera House, their “beloved artistic home.”

In closing, Shilvock reminded guests that next year will be the Opera’s 100th season. While the ball will probably be more opulent than ever for the centenary, this year’s intimate fete lived up to its name.

Here are a few highlights:

Social lite: At the reception on the Opera House balcony, donors including Cynthia and John Gunn, Barbro and Bernard Osher, Gretchen Kimball, Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, Romana Bracco and Fred Levin sipped Champagne overlookin­g a golden hued City Hall. Paul Pelosi arrived without his wife, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was in New York for the nation’s 9/11 commemorat­ion the next day.

Dede Wilsey again hired event designer Stanlee Gatti to create floral bunting to hang from the boxes in the theater. This year, yellow, white and orange flowers formed starbursts reminiscen­t of the chandelier above and the San Francisco Opera logo, but also symbolized the sun rising after darkness.

Expanding inclusion: Tenor Russell Thomas, who will be opening in “Fidelio” on Oct. 14, said that he feels the past year has allowed conversati­ons about repre-

For more photos from the S.F. Opera’s “Homecoming” concert, visit datebook.sfchronicl­

sentation and equity to take new focus in the opera world.

“Having a music director who is an Asian woman is a big deal,” he said of new Music Director Eun Sun Kim. “I think it was game changing for this organizati­on, I’m happy about that. Now, I would love to see more Black people working at San Francisco Opera.”

Dinner in the Green Room: The Blueprint Studios decor for the Green Room dinner skewed cool mint and gold to match the setting: McCall’s Catering & Events served an egg and chive mousseline; parsnip, goat cheese veloute with parsnip, apple, and endive; and a Maine lobster entree with petit squash. Lemon Italian meringues finished the meal.

Katie Colendich noted that the people watching was just as delicious as the food after months of pandemic TV bingewatch­ing over dinner.

A diva dishes: In a “who wore it better” moment, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton approached guest Irena Matijas to compliment her on their near-matching black and gold sequin gown motifs.

Barton’s asymmetric­al, shaved hairstyle is distinctiv­e in the usually staid world of classical voice. She said that for her, part of “showing up as myself ” is about knocking down some of the gates she feels can prevent people from discoverin­g opera.

“I come from not riches, not any of this. I grew up in a singlewide trailer in the hills of Georgia, and I found my way here,” Barton said. “Anyone should feel a safe and welcoming space walking in the opera door.”

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 ?? Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle ?? Guests of the San Francisco Opera’s “Homecoming” celebratio­n sit down for a post-show dinner at the Veterans Building.
Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle Guests of the San Francisco Opera’s “Homecoming” celebratio­n sit down for a post-show dinner at the Veterans Building.

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