09/11/2013 11:35 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

Skulls, Scores, Swains and Swells - Only SF Opera Tells

SF Opera Ball

They ate chocolate skulls at the opening of the San Francisco Opera.  There. Now that we have confirmed that the opera opening is a ritualized tribal gathering, we can let you in on its secrets: the grandiloquent greetings, the frothy frocks, the swaggering swains, the delectable delights. And the magnificent main event of Mephistophelean music. And let you know that good prevailed over evil.

Guests were welcomed to a green-carpeted City Hall adorned by celebrity party personage Colin Cowie. This was Cowie's first turn as decormeister for this particular party, and he made sure to summon a spectacle. Following the theme of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," the rotunda of City Hall was bathed in emerald light, ringed with trellises and topiaries and adorned with all manner of flora and feathers. In the North Light Court, all-too-lifelike garden statues held their pose and human butterflies flitted amongst the air kisses and champagne bubbles. Cocktails and dinner were designed to be "Good," while the afterparty (after three and a half hours of operatic Faustian jousting) summoned the idea of "Evil," albeit a rather tame evocation which included the aforementioned chocolate skulls, some spicy tequila truffles and an abundance of twerk-free dancing.

The elaborate evening was chaired by Ann Girard, resplendent in a tangerine dream of a dress, and Mai Shiver in fabulous fuchsia, with Opera Guild President Karen Kubin in contrasting black lace to match her distinctive DeVille hairdo. Their leadership was lauded by the Opera Board Chairman John Gunn, who welcomed the audience alongside General Director David Gockley and new Board President David Geeslin. The the evening was dedicated to the memory of their great supporter Jeannik Mequet Littlefield, and Sunday's Opera in the Park performance to the memory former General Director Lotfi Mansouri, both crucial contributors to the growth and grounding of the company. The performance of Boito's opera itself offered a lavish display of particularly powerful sets and costumes as backdrops to the world-class cast of Patricia Racette, Ildar Abdrazakov and Ramon Vargas. Enthusiasm and interaction was so high, Maestro Nicola Luisotti actually had to shush the audience multiple times to begin Act IV.

Grand opera calls for the grandest of gowns, and the ladies did not disappoint. Most gravitated to the garden of good, with a rich array of colors and styles that flattered the individual rather than fawned on the mode de la moment. Our local couturiers were well represented. Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden Corsetry made Elizabeth Fullerton's corseted confection, and her own sleek Deco satin and lace ensemble which stood out for its refinement and restraint. Karen Caldwell appeared in a slim lace swath of her own creation while the impossibly svelte mother of three, Jennifer Siebel Newsom appeared in Caldwell's orange sherbet sheath.  Samantha Duvall and Joanna Rees charmed in figure flattering purple and red brocades from Azadeh, and Lily Samii adorned Linda Kemper and herself.  Ricky Serbin scored with his sourcing of a Schiaparelli pink Bill Blass caped classic for MaryBeth Shimmon; his own Comme de Garcons suit with caped sleeves was edgy chic. Los Angeles' Vasily Vein appeared in a cascade of curls to match his creation of Clara Shayevich's mega-mermaid in black and white tulle.

Paula Carano glowed in a meringue of Marchesa. Maria Manetti Shrem wore her Robert Capucci wedding dress with a bridal blush.  First Lady Anita Lee carried off a charming cheongsam to accompany Mayor Ed Lee on this week's busy social circuit. Marissa Mayer, Phoebe Cowles, Claudia Ross, Cynthia Gunn, Teresa Medearis, Catherine Marcus, Maria Quiros and Schuyler Hudak all glistened in gold. Angelique Griepp, Cynthia Schreuder, Danielle Low, Susan Dunlevy, Veronica Watson, Deborah Rocha, Sandra Ferris, Nancy Cunningham Clark, and Susan Tamagni all ravished in devilish red, the evening's most popular color.

Stephanie Ejabat looked lovely in yellow cocktail length Giambatista Valli balanced by vertiginous jeweled platforms; Nancy Kukacka naturally towered in black and white sequined Valli. Joy Venturini Bianchi carried the Chado. Vera Wang scored two coups with Marybeth Lamotte in beautiful burgundy and Tanya Powell in a froth of café au lait.  And Mary Poland, Patricia Sprincin, Charlotte Shulz, Dianne Rubin, Jane Mudge, Maria Barrios, Charlot Malin, Lora duBain, Goretti Lui, Afsaneh Akhtari, Juliet de Baubigny, OJ Shansby, and Brenda Zarate wore a festive and flattering frocks of various styles and hues, each to her own best advantage.

Oscar de la Renta staked out the green carpet, appearing on Komal Shah in a cascading train of ruby ruffles, with smashing necklace to match, while Barbara Brookins-Schneider wore a deep wine wonder. But his grandest gown belonged to Opening Weekend Grand Sponsor Dede Wilsey, resplendent in canary yellow silk deeply embroidered with a garden of delicate vines and flowers, accessorized by a parure of canary diamonds and the dashing Boaz Mazor. Her daughter in law Alexis Traina draped her jewels across her forehead as an exotic Odialisque, which gave her the option of good or evil.

Deepa Pakanathian's McQueen moment came complete with her hot-off-the-runway headpiece, a see-through cage of a Faberge egg which encircled her face and head. The addition of her eleven year old son bearing the train of her gown was her own gesture of grand opera. (Discreet betting began immediately on how she would eat  -- fortunately the McCall's menu included a green pea soup starter to sip, but the lamb could not cross her chops, and the chocolate skull was a no-brainer.)

Amongst the merry men, Alex Chases was a fetchingly flawless escort to his mother  visiting from La Jolla, Joel Goodrich rocked a sequined shout-out to Chanel, Banana Republic's Jack Calhoun closed the gap and Jorge Maumer, Daniel Diaz and Alan Malouf, a mustachioed Daniel Silvera, Chip Zecker, James Franklin Krohn, and Joshua Robinson all stood out with guy high style.

Opera leadership was well represented with Cynthia Fry Gunn, Pitch and Cathy Johnson, Leslie and George Hume, Frayda and George Lindemann, Joan and David Traitel, David Dollinger, Susan and Mark Kroll, Shariqu Yosufzai and Brian James, Soo and Raj Vernkatesan, Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis, Cathy and Angus MacNaughton, Mary and Gary Pinkus, Judith and John Renard, Soo and Raj Venkatesan, Tad and Dianne Taube, Joan and David Traitel, Carol and Dixon Doll, Olivia Hsu Decker, Fati Farmanfarmaian and many others tending the garden of Good.  Paul and Nancy Pelosi, whose day job includes the arbitration good and evil, made it a date night on the eve of their fiftieth wedding anniversary, a half century of very good behavior by any standard. And those chocolate skulls? Those who consumed them said they appeared evil, but tasted very, very good. The garden of grandeur is safe for another season.