Opera Ball 2019: What Art Thou Wearing?

By Julissa James

Atmosphere at San Francisco Opera Ball 2019. (All photos by Drew Altizer Photography)

When the Chase Center announced it would officially open with a big, splashy concert on September 6 — coincidentally the same night of the San Francisco Opera Ball — we couldn’t help but wonder: Will The Capulets’ Masked Ball end in a Romeo and Juliet–style tragedy? The swell of guests showing up to the War Memorial Opera House in elaborate gowns, suits and masks gave us our answer. The only drama happening that evening would come via carefully orchestrated outfits and on-stage production.

Co-chaired by Elizabeth Birka-White and Jane Mudge, the Opera Guild affair kicked off the San Francisco Opera’s 97th season with style and extravagance.

The performance was Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, played by Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra, respectively. The dinner by McCalls was appropriately indulgent — including Maine lobster and filet mignon. The atmosphere, designed by mastermind J. Riccardo Benavides, who transformed an ordinary tent into an extraordinary setting, evoked a romantic evening in Verona.

Guided by an optional masquerade theme, guests were free to go all out. Ronnie Genotti bedazzled every inch of his face and head to look like a diamond-encrusted skull — like an IRL version of Damien Hirst’s famed sculpture, “For the Love of God.”

Sonya Molodetskaya floated through the party in a delightful cloud of tulle. Her playful powder-blue gown, designed by Vasily Vein, was cut short in front to show off her knee-high René Caovilla gladiator sandals, with a mile–long train for an extra dose of umph.

Opera Guild President Mary Poland stunned in a black-and-yellow number that screamed “Queen Bee,” and Courtney Dallaire’s trippy cat-eye mask by local designer Lance Victor Moore gave “optical illusion” a whole new meaning. Lisa Zabelle’s mesh Marchesa gown, in cotton candy shades of blue and pink, was another standout.

The wildly imaginative disguises didn’t stop us from spotting familiar faces: Ken McNeely and Inder Dhillon were undeniably dapper, as were Bill Poland, Jay Jeffers and Michael Purdy. Willie Brown and Dede Wilsey ditched the masks and relied on the sheer power of their presence as an accessory. SF Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock and wife Kate were picture perfect, and Mayor London Breed sightings were aplenty.

Klaus Murer
Karen Kubin and Roman Gronkowski
Beverly Barnett and Claudia Ross
Lisa and Todd Zabelle
Ronnie Genotti
Courtney Dallaire
Co-chairs Elizabeth Birka-White and Jane Mudge
Mary and Bill Poland
Camille Bently
Komal Shah
Ken McNeely and Inder Dhillon
Rada Katz, Farah Makras and Sonya Molodetskaya
Matthew Shilvock
Kate Shilvock
Jane Mudge and Val Karruck
Michael Purdy and Jay Jeffers

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