“Anyone could move in here, I swear,” jokes Getty, as she thinks back on the conductor's unheralded arrival. “They could just show up and say they were expected!”
Her approach to Super Supper Sundays is nearly as laissez-faire; Getty maintains an open-door policy for her neighbors, and to round things out, she relies on Silver and Stanlee Gatti, an events planner and social arbiter who is equal parts Robert Isabell and Ward McAllister, the 19th-century snob who helped the original Mrs. Astor prune her guest list to 400.
As the rich scent of the cheese soufflés escapes from the oven and Getty hurries about the kitchen, Gatti and Silver serve as official greeters, subtly steering dignitaries to seats near Gordon, who presides at the head of the table. Near him are California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Sunday regular, and Berkeley professor Alex Pines and his wife, Ditsa, who are among the Gettys' closest friends. When director Philip Kaufman leans in for a chat, Ditsa pulls out her digital camera for a snapshot of the eclectic group.
“Gordon, look who you're bringing together,” she calls out over the din. “An artist, a politician and a scientist.”
As dinner winds down, the murmur of conversation is interrupted by a sonorous bass voice. It's Gordon, robustly singing an aria from one of the several operas he has composed. The performance elicits applause, and then a young man at the table, the guest of a regular, asks if he might have the honor of singing for his supper as well. Gordon assents and the guest proves to have a trained operatic voice. Gordon looks transported, clinching his eyes tight during a particularly expressive phrase.
“Schumann, Dichterliebe,” Gordon announces at the song's end. He responds by singing a heartfelt if somewhat shaky version of “Danny Boy,” which the visitor takes over in the final verse to finish in high and haunting falsetto. Gordon loves it: He offers a hearty hand of applause, then drains his final glass and disappears into the bowels of the mansion. It's been an odd and rather extraordinary coda to the evening but par for the course at Super Supper Sunday.
“I remember when I first came here, I thought, Wow, I am so lucky to be a part of this,” says Silver, who arrived in the city some 30 years ago and now produces the musical revue Beach Blanket Babylon. “I really never met people quite like the people I met in San Francisco.”
She can say that again.
At a time when high society has been declared dead in New York and elsewhere, San Francisco may well be the last place in America where it's alive and kicking, where leaders from the worlds of business, philanthropy, culture and politics still mingle around the tables of the town's most illustrious families. Although the Gettys currently hold the preeminent spot in San Francisco's social hierarchy, they've got plenty of eager competition, and with so many busy socialites—and busybodies—on the loose, the town at times resembles a gossipy gilded village. Still, with the dot-com boom 2.0 now under way in nearby Silicon Valley and the recent Democratic victory turning local congresswoman Nancy Pelosi into one of Washington's most powerful players, the local social leaders are more justified than ever in feeling pleased with themselves.