The All-American champion of American operas who led San Francisco Opera out of Euro trash and debt into the black just announced his retirement after 2015/2016, within weeks of awarding the San Francisco Opera Medal to Patricia Racette after “Susannah” and 25 years on substantial contributions. Her Puccini triptych five years ago was glorious and one of the best things Gockley ever did. Gockley himself deserves such accolades as his legacy has been the All-Americanization of San Francisco Opera. On that note since “Susannah” focuses on forgiveness, we shall now forgive our illustrious and innovative leader for “Heart of a Soldier” although he does have one. Note Racette started as a Merolini. Gockley has been wonderful about developing these young proteges into performers on the main stage.
He himself came from Texas almost eleven years ago with not only a banjo on his knee but an engineer’s ability with the numbers. Although he played banjo with some opera friends at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the annual October festival in Golden Gate Park. This is the good sport who brought us Opera at the Baseball Park as well as Golden Gate Park.
He began his eleven year as director with staging American stories and in English, from “Porgy & Bess” to a joyful “Showboat” and most recently “Susannah”. The opera house had never been so happy as at Showboat and probably had never realized opera could be so exuberant and funny. Indeed his legacy was to popularize opera by presenting European style big screen simulcasts free to the public. He presented Verdi’s “Rigoletto” to Civic Center and to Stanford University as one of his first innovations.
He used the new, state of the art Koret media center. He put San Francisco Opera in the movie theaters. He put San Francisco Opera on public television, KQED. He recorded DVDs. He put on everything from a successful and Americanized Ring Cycle by Wagner with Francesca Zambello directing to Oscar Wilde’s “Salome”. He created a huge success out of his brainchild “Opera at the Baseball Park” where ever increasing thousands pack AT & T park and the baseball green for a free simulcasts on the Jumbotron.
Related: July’s Opera at the Baseball Park a husband and wife show
His judgment also includes what he pases on. For some reason he felt the Anna Nicole opera would not be appropriate for San Francisco audiences but he did hire the soprano who sang the lead, Dutch Eva-Maria Westbroek, to be in San Francisco’s Ring Cycle. He did concede the subject of celebrity is a worthy subject. He should know.
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