General Director David Gockley Announces Retirement

Release date: 10/3/2014

San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley Announces Plans to Retire At End of 2015–16 Season, Concluding a 44-Year Career As Opera Impresario

David Gockley Retires.pdf 

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 Ballpark live 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 masterwork Susannah; highly praised productions of two great American works, the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and Kern and Hammerstein II’s Show 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 attemptedto 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).

For the complete press release, please view the attached PDF.