Considered one of the major innovators in American opera, David Gockley has been general director of San Francisco Opera since 2006 and is passionately committed to the premise that opera is a living art form that speaks to a variety of audiences. Under his leadership, San Francisco Opera has already presented six world premieres (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 The Gospel of Mary Magdalene; Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy’s Dolores Claiborne) and two West Coast premieres (Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince; Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers). The Company also presented a new production of Wagner’s epic four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, in June 2011 conducted by Donald Runnicles and directed by Francesca Zambello.
Gockley is committed to broadening and diversifying audiences for San Francisco Opera. In his first months as general director he took opera to the center of the community with a free outdoor simulcast—the first in the Company’s history—of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in May 2006. The subsequent ten simulcasts throughout the Bay Area, including seven at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, have collectively drawn nearly 200,000 opera fans. These simulcasts are made possible by the Company’s Koret-Taube Media Suite, which Gockley led San Francisco Opera to create in 2007. The first permanent high-definition broadcast-standard video production facility installed in any American opera house, the Koret-Taube Media Suite gives the Company the permanent capability to produce simulcasts and other projects including OperaVision, retractable screens providing close-up shots in high-definition video for patrons in balcony seats. Gockley ushered in another first for San Francisco Opera in the spring of 2008 when the Company presented a series of four operas in movie theaters across the country; this series, now expanded to sixteen titles, are available to theaters and performing arts venues as the Company’s Grand Opera Cinema Series. In 2007 Gockley also launched radio partnerships that have returned regular San Francisco Opera broadcasts to the national and international radio airwaves.
Gockley came to San Francisco from Houston Grand Opera (HGO), where he was general director for more than three decades. Under his leadership, HGO received a Tony, two Emmy and two Grammy Awards; established the HGO Orchestra as well as the HGO Studio, which develops the talents of young singers; began annual international radio broadcasts and tours; 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. Gockley also oversaw the creation of the Wortham Theater Center, HGO’s home built entirely with private funds.
David Gockley was born in Philadelphia in 1943 and grew up in Wayne, Pennsylvania. He pursued vocal studies at the New England Conservatory and 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, which also named him the first recipient of the Dean’s Award for “Distinguished Professional Achievement.” Brown University awarded him an honorary doctorate of fine arts in 1993 and, in 1995, recognized him with the William Rogers Award for outstanding professional achievement and extraordinary service to humanity. Gockley is the father of two daughters, Meredith and Lauren, and a son, Adam.