Posted October 05, 2014

Posted October 5, 2014

SFO General Director David Gockley wraps up a 44-year career as opera impresario.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (October 3, 2014) — San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley and San Francisco Opera Association President Keith Geeslin today announced that Gockley will retire in July 2016, concluding a ten-year, seven-month tenure with the Company and capping an internationally acclaimed and award-winning career spanning 44 years as one of America’s most prominent opera impresarios. Gockley, who will be 73 at the end of the 2015-16 season, became the Company’s sixth general director when he joined San Francisco Opera in January 2006. Today’s announcement was made at a War Memorial Opera House press conference.

“When I was appointed San Francisco Opera’s general director, I set out to carry forth the growth and success of the Company for no more than ten full seasons, and this plan has not changed,” stated Gockley. “I also believe this is an opportunity to give the public, board of directors and staff a new leader with fresh ideas, energy, eyes and ears.

Gockley continued: “It has not been an easy decision for me to step aside as I reflect on my professional life these past 40-plus years and in particular, my affection for San Francisco Opera, a glorious and iconic company that I’ve held in the highest regard since the early days of my career. Supported by a very generous board of directors, donors, and ticket holders, I remain in awe of the community’s commitment to San Francisco Opera, both locally and nationally. The extraordinary work of the more than 900 employees connected to this Company has helped solidify San Francisco Opera’s standing as one of the top lyric theaters in the world. I’m very proud to collaborate with all of these individuals, especially our nine labor union partners, as we unite in striving to produce only the best opera.”

Commenting on Gockley’s tenure, Keith Geeslin praised his many accomplishments. “David’s legacy, both in San Francisco and at Houston Grand Opera before that, is remarkable. My board colleagues John Gunn [chairman] and George Hume [immediate past president and current vice chairman] had the foresight and wisdom to recruit David, and we have benefitted greatly from his artistic leadership and his savvy financial stewardship, especially during the recent ‘Great Recession’. David’s tenure has brought some remarkable innovations and has increased San Francisco Opera’s presence in our community and in the entire opera industry. The establishment of the Koret-Taube Media Suite, a groundbreaking media platform, enables our Opera at the Ballparklive simulcasts to AT&T Park and the San Francisco Opera Grand Opera Cinema Series. Our performances are broadcast locally on KQED TV and nationally on PBS, and distributed internationally on DVD/Blu-ray in partnership with EuroArts Music International.”

Geeslin continued, “David Gockley has put this Company on solid financial footing and an exciting artistic path, establishing a strong foundation that ensures a vibrant future as San Francisco Opera approaches its centennial season in 2022. Because of David’s vision and leadership, we are building the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera in the War Memorial Veterans Building. This 55,000 square foot facility will consolidate many of the Company’s operations onto the War Memorial campus, including a new education center, a 299-seat flexible theater, a rehearsal studio, a public archive, our costume shop and administrative offices.”

The Company’s board of directors is forming a committee, chaired by San Francisco Opera board member and Treasurer Steven M. Menzies and fellow board member Robert A. Ellis, to undertake an international search for a new general director.

OPERA America President and CEO Marc Scorca commented, “David Gockley’s impact on opera cannot be overstated. He led a successful national movement to establish an American opera repertoire and guided programs that nurtured some of the greatest singers of our day. Through landmark education programs and projects that increased opera’s accessibility to a broader and more diverse audience, he redefined the role of an opera company in its community. David Gockley is a visionary whose leadership has strengthened the entire field and enriched the art form here in the United States and around the world.”

Among the many artistic accomplishments highlighting David Gockley’s tenure at San Francisco Opera are: a new Francesca Zambello production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, with Nina Stemme; a new production of Bellini’s Norma, featuring stand out performances by Sondra Radvanovsky and Jamie Barton; the Company premiere of Carlisle Floyd’s American masterworkSusannah; highly praised productions of two great American works, the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and Kern and Hammerstein II’sShow Boat; a critically lauded production of Puccini’s complete triptych Il Trittico with Patricia Racette; the widely acclaimed Company premiere of Handel’s Xerxes; a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, designed by artist Jun Kaneko; an impressive, large-scale production of Boito’s Mefistofele, which was broadcast live to cinemas in Europe; Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, which will be released later this month on DVD/Blu-ray; the co-commission and presentation of Jake Heggie’s award winning Moby-Dick, which was broadcast on PBS’ Great Performances; and a new dramatic production of Janacek’s The Makropoulos Case with Karita Mattila among more than 110 opera productions presented by Gockley.

Gockley’s career is further distinguished with an unprecedented record of 44 world premiere presentations and commissions both at San Francisco Opera and Houston Grand Opera. In San Francisco, Gockley has thus far presented six new operas with Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton’s Appomattox, Stewart Wallace and Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Christopher Theofanidis and Donna Di Novelli’s Heart of a Soldier, Nolan Gasser and Carey Harrison’s The Secret Garden, Mark Adamo’s Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy’s Dolores Claiborne. In the near future, San Francisco Opera will see three additional new operas planned by Gockley including Marco Tutino and Fabio Ceresa’s La Ciociara (Two Women) in June 2015, Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s Dream of the Red Chamber for Fall 2016, and a soon-to-be-announced commission from Jake Heggie for Fall 2017.

Throughout his entire career, Gockley has vigorously championed that opera is for everyone, breaking down the myths that opera is a non-accessible art form and out of touch with American cultural values. “Everything I’ve attempted to do over these years has been to create a platform in which the world of opera can be experienced and enjoyed by everyone in our community, as well as nationally and internationally,” said Gockley.  “This great and noble art form has been enriching the lives of millions of individuals for more than four centuries, and in my opinion remains very exciting, fresh and important as ever to our society.”

“Looking beyond my retirement date—because opera seasons are planned and top artists are booked four to five years in advance—the board of directors has authorized me to program repertoire and casting for two additional seasons, extending into 2016–17 and 2017–18. As a result, I believe we are well on our way to securing the world’s leading singers in very compelling programs,” said Gockley. “This is also why Keith Geeslin and the board’s search committee are beginning their search for my successor almost two years before my retirement. Our goal is to identify the seventh general director of San Francisco Opera by mid-2015 to give this individual the full opportunity to program later opera seasons.”

In a related announcement, Gockley disclosed that San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti’s position with the Company has been extended through the 2017–18 season. Maestro Luisotti, who began his tenure in September 2009, made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2005 with Verdi’s La Forza del Destino.

Nicola Luisotti stated, “I’ve been honored to work with San Francisco Opera over these many years and thank David Gockley, my colleague and friend, for giving me the opportunity to conduct at this great house and to make such beautiful music with our orchestra, chorus and guest artists. I am honored and inspired to be music director of this Company, and to represent San Francisco Opera around the world.”

San Francisco Opera was founded by Italian conductor and pianist Gaetano Merola, who presented the Company’s first season in 1923 at the Civic Center Auditorium. In 1932, the Beaux Arts 3,100 seat War Memorial Opera House opened and remains the home of San Francisco Opera. Maestro Merola, who led the Company until his death in 1953, was succeeded as general director by Kurt Herbert Adler (1953–81), Terry McEwen (1982–88), Lotfi Mansouri (1988–2001), Pamela Rosenberg (2001–05), and David Gockley (2006–2016).

The Company’s 92nd repertory season for 2014–15 includes Bellini’s Norma, Floyd’s Susannah, Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera,Handel’s Partenope, Puccini’s Tosca and La Bohème, Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Berlioz’s Les Troyens, the world premiere of Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara (Two Women), and Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. For further information, visit

• San Francisco Opera General Director beginning January 2006; the Company’s sixth general director since its founding in 1923 by Gaetano Merola.
• During his tenure (2006–2016) at San Francisco Opera he will have produced 110 operas for both the War Memorial Opera House and at U.C. Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, in addition to numerous recitals and concerts, totaling more than 750 performances.
• In June 2011, unveils new production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, a co-production with Washington National Opera.
• Oversees the creation of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, scheduled to open in January 2016, adding more than 55,000 square feet to San Francisco Opera’s facilities on the War Memorial Campus in the adjacent Veterans Building. The new facility will include a 299-seat flexible theater, an education center, rehearsal studio, public opera archive, costume shop, and administrative offices.
• By the end of his tenure, will have commissioned nine operas for San Francisco Opera, including works by Philip Glass, Stewart Wallace & Amy Tan, Christopher Theofanidis, Mark Adamo, Nolan Gasser, Tobias Picker, Marco Tutino, Bright Sheng, and Jake Heggie. Gockley also co-commissions Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick, which aired nationwide from San Francisco Opera on PBS in November 2013. Combined with his commissions for Houston Grand Opera, Gockley has been responsible for the creation of more than 44 new works.
• Appoints Italian conductor Nicola Luisotti as new San Francisco Opera music director effective September 2009; Luisotti’s contract runs through the 2017–18 season.
• San Francisco Opera’s Endowment (as of October 2014) has grown 131% under Gockley’s management and is currently valued at $164,962,442 (unaudited). The Company’s FY15 budget is $77 million.
• Achieves a 95% growth in the Company’s Bel Canto Society to 497 members today; the Bel Canto Society is comprised of patrons who have established a legacy commitment to the Opera providing long range financial stability and artistic planning.
• Creates the Koret-Taube Media Suite in 2007, the first permanent high-definition broadcast standard video production facility installed in any American opera house.
• Initiates Company’s free live simulcasts in May 2006 with Puccini’sMadama Butterfly,
projected live from the War Memorial Opera House to San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, attracting more than 8,000 individuals; additional simulcasts to Civic Center Plaza, Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater and other Bay Area venues follow. Live simulcasts from the Opera House to AT&T Park (home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team) begin in 2007; to date, twelve simulcasts have been presented, attracting more than 220,000 individuals to this popular community event.
• Forges relationship in 2007 with Bay Area classical radio station KDFC and nationally with WFMT for monthly radio broadcasts of San Francisco Opera live performances; radio broadcasts have also occurred in select cities in Asia.
• In 2010, created partnership with KQED TV, Northern California’s PBS station, for the
broadcast of four San Francisco Opera performances each year for the past five years;
celebrated mezzo Frederica von Stade has been the program host since 2012.
• Launches Grand Opera Cinema Series in 2008 screening Company performances nationwide, locally and most recently throughout Europe.
• Partners with EuroArts Music International in 2012 for the production and distribution of San Francisco Opera performances on DVD/Blu-ray including Moby-Dick, Lucrezia Borgia, Porgy and Bess, Mefistofele, and the soon to be released I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Show Boat.
• Launches innovative OperaVision program at the War Memorial Opera House in 2007, providing balcony patrons full stage, close-up and mid-range ensemble shots in high-definition video on two retractable screens.
• Since 2006, successfully guides labor negotiations with the Company’s nine different unions, including the American Federation of Musicians, American Guild of Musical Artists, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and others.
• Establishes San Francisco Opera’s first education department in 2008 (complimenting the long-standing education programs of the San Francisco Opera Guild). The highly successful programs work closely with the San Francisco Unified School District and schools throughout the Bay Area in addition to providing rich content programs