Established 1978
Upper Crust

Opera Galas’ Razzle Dazzle

by Sandra J. Swanson

What would the opera be without all the glamour, glitz, and gowns? Although what happens on stage is filled with high notes and drama, the search for the perfect gown brings out the diva in most women — in a good way.

Some fashion trends inspired by this year’s royal weddings are emerging: long hemlines, long sleeves, lengthy trains, and heaps of lace (à la the new Princess Charlene, bride of Prince Albert of Monaco)all this in pale noncouleurs (French for “don’t call it beige”). In London, “Alexander the Great’s” Sarah Burton, covered up and “propered” Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Kate) with “inspiration” from the scepter of Her Majesty (a.k.a. her grandmother-in-law). Will San Francisco women wear the new prim and modest look to the fall’s most fabulous opening events? That remains to be seen.

What is certain: the women in charge of the opera parties are “going big” for ball gowns for the big events. Ileana Facchini, BRAVO! San Francisco Opera Opening Night Gala co-chair (with Kelly Krueger), is having her long, non-color gown designed and constructed in Vicenzo, Italy, by Paola Girardi. Ileana, a native of Italy, virtually grew up with the operas performed at La Scala, an important part of her family life. As a young girl, she studied both ancient Greek and Latin, and read the Greek tragedies; “The ancient root of opera,” she says. “Opera keeps me sane, elevating my life from the grayness of the business world. I am honored to be involved in such an important event for the city and for the Italian community.”

Kelly is also starting her gown from scratch for the BRAVO! event. On the drawing board from Yanssan, San Francisco couturière Cristina Robinson’s label, is a sketch for Kelly’s luscious gown. Christina, from Brazil, is known for her sense of color and her intuitive ability to complement her clients’ features, and she looks to her homeland for inspiration, not to Paris. That probably means that reserve won’t be the overarching theme for this gown.

Susan Tamagni and Ann Marie Massocca, co-chairs of the Patron’s Committee,   are the “impresarias” for Opera Ball 2011. “We must wear something comfortable,” says Susan, “as well as beautiful. We will be on our feet from four p.m. to one a.m.” Comfort and plenty of glamour are New York City designer Robert Danes’s specialties. He is creating Susan’s “amazing ball gown” (no previews; sorry) in “Times Square” red (so much for the royal influence). She will accessorize with vintage Piaget and Cartier diamond jewelry, inherited from her mom, and a pair of Manolos, “The most perfect fitting and comfortably stylish shoes made,” she says. “The excitement about Opera Ball has much to do with glamour, but countless hours and huge amounts of money are spent on our award-winning opera education in the schools, the beneficiary of the Opera Ball. Our programs annually teach more than 50,000 school children to understand teamwork; everyone works together on the overlapping components required to produce an opera, and our programs help build creative thinking and confidence from a young age.”

Ann Marie will be wearing a necklace of emerald cabochons “gifted” by her husband on their 20th anniversary. “To match her stunning, green eyes,” Susan adds. Anne Marie will also wear sparkly Jimmy Choos, and both chairs will leave a trailing scent of Clive Christian fragrance as they run gracefully from moment to moment, carrying out their responsibilities for the evening. Working with her favorite Neiman Marcus shopper, Anne Marie chose a forest green ball gown by Monique Lhuillier to complement her necklace. She laughs, “I met Ann Girard (president of the San Francisco Opera Guild) at Neiman’s to ‘coordinate colors’ and it was like color matching with the mother of the bride. Ann decided on a red Oscar de la Renta gown with a train, and we loved my green with her red, and with Susan’s.”

Susan and Anne Marie revealed another opulent aspect of the opera opener: Ferrari of San Francisco, an Opera Ball sponsor, will park a few Ferraris for viewing (but not test-driving) at the valet entry, and début the new Ferrari FF (FF stands for Ferrari Four: four seats and four-wheel drive). The car boasts 12 cylinders up front and room for golf clubs and skis in the back. It can zip you to Pebble Beach or Tahoe at speeds up to 208 mph, although you’ll probably want to stick to the speed limit. If that isn’t enough, the kids have a two-screen infotainment center in the back seat.

It is for the love of children and education, as well as the love of opera and all the glamour that surrounds it, that the chairwomen are inspired to go to all lengths, pun intended, to make their fundraisers shine, sparkle―and succeed. Brava!

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