At the end of an almost completely sold-out program of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, San Francisco Opera celebrated further, by awarding David Gockley, General Director Emeritus, the company’s highest honor – the San Francisco Opera Medal.
The award was given in recognition of Gockley’s enormous and highly-valued contribution to the world of opera – not only here in San Francisco, where he served as General Director of the company for 10 years, but also at Houston Grand Opera, where his tenure as General Director spanned three decades.
Under David Gockley’s innovative leadership, San Francisco Opera experienced a wealth of accomplishments. Early on in his tenure, he introduced thousands of people to the wonders of opera – people who would probably never have dreamed of buying tickets to a performance at the War Memorial Opera House. By initiating a live simulcast from the opera house stage, firstly to a giant screen in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, and subsequently at AT&T Park, Gockley enabled over 300,000 people to enjoy some of the finest performances of opera, over a period of 15 years. With these simulcasts, he paved the way for the first broadcast-standard video production facility to be installed in an American opera house.
During Gockley’s tenure, San Francisco Opera commissioned or co-commissioned 11 new works, presented 9 world premieres and co-produced a new production of Wagner’s Ring cycle which premiered in 2011 and has just completed a further run. Nicola Luisotti was appointed company music director during the Gockley years, which saw the rejuvenation of the company’s reputation as a leading presenter of the Italian repertoire. In February 2016, the Diane B Wilsey Center for Opera opened, the company’s Education department was established, as was the San Francisco Opera archives – in which one of the two galleries of historic photographs was named after David Gockley.
Under Gockley’s leadership, Houston Grand Opera won a Tony Award, two Emmys and two Grammy Awards, presented 35 world premieres and six American premieres, and became America’s leading commissioner and producer of new works. The original full score version of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess was added to the HGO repertoire, the company commissioned and presented the world premiere of John Adams’ first opera, Nixon in China, in 1987, Gockley oversaw the creation of the Wortham Theater Center, built completely by private funding, and he pioneered the co-production model.
In his tribute to David Gockley, Matthew Shilvock – who succeeded him as General Director of San Francisco Opera – spoke of the vast numbers of singers, composers, conductors, directors and designers to whom Gockley gave opportunities for innovation and advancement, and praised him for creating new ways of enabling more and more people to engage with opera. “You have made it accessible, compelling, and vital in our lives,” he said. “And you have given us a legacy of artistic experiences—like this Ring—that will remain in our souls for all time.”
In 2016, American Impresario: David Gockley’s Life in Opera was published by Chronicle Books.
Information sourced from San Francisco Opera