San Francisco Opera Medal Awarded to David Gockley

by Stage Directions
(L to R) Former general director David Gockley with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the Company’s highest honor with SFO General Director Matthew Shilvock. ©Drew Altizer Photography
(L to R) Former general director David Gockley with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the Company’s highest honor with SFO General Director Matthew Shilvock. ©Drew Altizer Photography

In an onstage presentation following the July 1 performance of Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock presented former general director David Gockley with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the Company’s highest honor. An industry pioneer who helped shape the operatic repertory and build new audiences for the artform, Gockley served 10 years at the helm of San Francisco Opera and is currently the Company’s General Director Emeritus.

The commemoration of Gockley’s historic career coincided with a sold-out performance of the culminating work in Wagner’s four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), which attracted domestic audiences from 49 states and international Ring-goers hailing from 27 countries. Three complete cycles were presented of a production staged by Francesca Zambello.

Standing on a crowded stage amid the Götterdämmerung cast and members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus and stage crew, Shilvock honored David Gockley, his predecessor as general director and personal mentor: “Legions of singers, composers, conductors, directors and designers have been given ground-breaking opportunities by you, David. You have championed successive generations of artists. You believe so fundamentally in the power of opera that you have, time and time again, made the seemingly impossible a reality. You have pioneered new ways of engaging with the artform. You have made it accessible, compelling, and vital in our lives. And you have given us a legacy of artistic experiences—like this Ring—that will remain in our souls for all time.”

David Gockley with the company of following the July 1 performance of Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. ©Drew Altizer PhotographyGockley said: “I dedicate this medal to the people who are on stage with me today, who have given their lives to create beauty and drama in a way that is really indescribable.”

Considered a risk-taking innovator in American opera, David Gockley served as general director of San Francisco Opera from January 2006 until his retirement in July 2016. Under Gockley’s leadership, 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 revived this season.

In his first months as general director, Gockley took opera to the community with a live outdoor simulcast to San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza—the first in the Company’s history—in May 2006. San Francisco Opera’s 15 free simulcasts to date throughout the Bay Area, including 11 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, have played to a combined audience of more than 306,000. These simulcasts are made possible by the Company’s Koret/Taube Media Suite, the first high-definition, broadcast-standard video production facility to be installed in an American opera house which Gockley led San Francisco Opera to create in 2007.

Gockley’s achievements at San Francisco Opera encompass the appointment of Nicola Luisotti as Company music director and subsequent rejuvenation of San Francisco Opera’s legacy as a leading presenter of Italian repertory; the creation of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which opened in February 2016; formal establishment of San Francisco Opera’s Education Department, a program that provides annual educational activities, performances and workshops for students, teachers, families and adults; establishment of the San Francisco Opera Archives; reestablished key partnerships with radio and television broadcasters; and collaborating with the Company’s more than 900 employees, including nine labor union partners, to produce outstanding opera. One of the two photo galleries celebrating the Company’s history in the Wilsey Center for Opera was named for David Gockley in 2016.

Gockley’s tenure with San Francisco Opera was the culmination of a 45-year career as one of opera’s most innovative and bold impresarios that began with Houston Grand Opera (HGO), where he was general director for more than three decades. Under his leadership, HGO received a Tony, two Emmys, and two Grammy Awards and became America’s leading commissioner and producer of new works. By 2006, HGO had 35 world premieres and six American premieres to its credit. Highlights of his time with Houston Grand Opera include restoring Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in its original full score form to the operatic repertory; commissioning and presenting the world premiere of John Adams’ first opera, Nixon in China, in 1987; overseeing the creation of the Wortham Theater Center, HGO’s home built entirely with private funds; and pioneered the co-production model, a now standard practice of building operatic productions with partner companies to defray costs.

David Gockley was born in Philadelphia in 1943 and pursued vocal studies at the New England Conservatory. He then studied conducting and composition at Brown University, where he received a bachelor’s degree. He holds a master’s degree from Columbia University Business School. His life and career are the subject of American Impresario: David Gockley’s Life in Opera (Chronicle Books, 2016).

About The San Francisco Opera Medal
Inaugurated in 1970 by former General Director Kurt Herbert Adler, the San Francisco Opera Medal is awarded at the discretion of the Company for artistic integrity, collegiality and distinguished service to San Francisco Opera. Past recipients of the Opera Medal include sopranos Dorothy Kirsten, Joan Sutherland and Renée Fleming; mezzo-sopranos Frederica von Stade and Susan Graham; tenor Plácido Domingo; baritone Thomas Stewart; conductors Donald Runnicles, Sir Charles Mackerras, Nicola Luisotti; directors John Copley and Francesca Zambello; and Chorus Director Ian Robertson. Recent recipients include composer John Adams and artist David Hockney who were presented with the Opera Medal on separate occasions during the 2017 Fall Season.

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