San Francisco audiences who enjoyed this season’s Ring cycle have in large part David Gockley to thank. S.F. Opera’s general director from January 2006 to July 2016 (and currently the company’s general director emeritus), Gockley co-produced the “new” 2011 staging of Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk, which underwent its first revival this year.
How fitting that, following the final performance of Götterdämmerung on Sunday afternoon, the now-retired Gockley received the San Francisco Opera Medal, the organization’s highest honor. (Past recipients include Joan Sutherland, Plácido Domingo, Donald Runnicles, and more recently, composer John Adams and set designer David Hockney.)
Matthew Shilvock, S.F. Opera’s current general director and Gockley’s successor in the position, presented the award, remarking on the “power of opera” as a dominant theme of Gockley’s artistic and managerial legacy. Less abstractly, Gockley’s tenure as an American impresario, with 30 years at the helm of the Houston Grand Opera prior to his move to San Francisco, saw an increased emphasis on world premieres and commissioned works, among them John Adams’s monumental Nixon in China. More practically, he spearheaded the model of co-production, a now-standard approach to financing opera that defers production costs to partner companies.
Accepting the award on the War Memorial stage, before a sold-out crowd and a cast, crew, and orchestra of Wagnerian proportions, Gockley wished to thank the company: “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.”
CORRECTION: As orginally published, this article transposed two letters in Matthew Shilvock's last name.