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Highlights from the 2012 Annual Meeting Presentation

At the recent San Francisco Opera Annual Meeting on March 15, 2012, David Gockley spoke about the upcoming 2012-13 Season, what it means to be a world-class opera company and the steps that are being taken to ensure the fiscal health of the Company through 2020 and beyond.
He also challenged the opera’s most dedicated supporters and patrons to become 90th Season Ambassadors by inviting family, friends and colleagues to attend performances and opera events, to make an annual gift and to join the Bel Canto Legacy society.

Here are extended excerpts from David Gockley’s remarks.

Around the world opera houses have green rooms, chorus rooms, press rooms, patron rooms and trap rooms.  But only San Francisco Opera has a Lobster Room!

This area of the Opera House became known as the “Lobster Room” because its key is on a lobster keychain!  Inside this cluttered area lies the history of this company, etched onto whatever medium was fashionable at the time: photos, slides, documents, reel-to-reel tapes,  DAT tapes,  Betamax videos,  VHS videos, recordings of the great live performances from the stage of the War Memorial House.  Unfortunately, we have never had the resources to properly archive this material.   But thanks to a generous special gift, we have now digitized over 50 of these recordings including performances by the likes of Horne, Domingo, Prices (both), Sills, Rysanek, Nilsson and Sutherland. 

This is an archive that will, very soon, no longer be relegated to the unknown confines of the Lobster Room.  Thanks to new media agreements with our union partners, we will now be able to share these recordings with radio audiences and may even release key works commercially. 

In September 2012 we will kick off San Francisco Opera’s 90th season.  Our centennial is not far off.  It’s a good time to ask ourselves how we are faring.  Are we creating performances that will excite future operagoers as much as the performances in the Lobster Room excite us today?

I believe we are.  I am very proud of the work that we do as a Company, maybe most clearly illustrated by the Ring Cycle which many of us enjoyed last summer.  Looking back over the last 12 months, performances like Xerxes with Susan Graham and David Daniels, Lucrezia Borgia with Renée Fleming, the powerful new opera Heart of a Soldier, and the revival of this company’s beloved Turandot, all speak to the qualities that define our history.

At the helm of this standard is our beloved music director, Nicola Luisotti.  As many of you may have read, his extraordinary talents were most recently recognized in his appointment as Music Director of the historic Teatro San Carlo in Naples, a prestigious appointment that will have no impact on Nicola’s role in San Francisco through July 2016.  We will next witness Nicola’s visceral energy in Rigoletto, Lohengrin (his first Wagner with the company), Tosca and Così fan tutte.  Nicola is a guardian of the finest musical tradition, and we are proud that he calls San Francisco home. 

Our world-class legacy is also built off-stage: in the record-breaking simulcasts that are now mainstays of the city’s cultural year; television broadcasts on KQED; radio broadcasts on KDFC and international networks; the imprint left on children who go through the education programs of the Opera and the Guild; powerful civic events like our recent 9/11 memorial concert; and of course the training of new stars through the celebrated Adler and Merola programs.

You may have heard me talk in previous forums about the kind of structural foundation this Company needs if we are to remain a world-class company. Great art must be supported by a great business model and that is why your board and management have articulated a strategic plan that will enable these life-changing artistic experiences to happen.  Strategic steps we have taken have included:

1. Recapitalization. Rebalancing our endowment and operating assets to ensure we have sufficient financial resources for the next 5 years.

2. Season Restructure. Restructuring our season to 8 operas, but retaining the basic number of performances.

3. Structural Rebalancing. Including everything from adopting a more efficient approach to cover artists, to changing our administrative pension program, to negotiating new agreements with our union partners.  The new agreements also provide for groundbreaking new paradigms in media and education. 

4. Facilities Redevelopment. One of the key projects between now and 2015 will be the move into the fourth floor of the Veterans Building next door to the Opera House.  All aspects of the company – other than the scene shop – will move onto one campus, bringing about significant annual savings. 

5. Building the Endowment. Our long-term goal is still to build our endowment to four times our operating budget, yielding 20% of our annual operating revenues.

The way we get to a more robust endowment is in large part through estate gifts.  These bequests can go straight to the endowment and provide a growing corpus, the interest of which keeps great art on stage.

Estate gifts are a way to remain associated with the Company in perpetuity, and we recognize donors who have made such gifts in our Bel Canto Legacy Society.  One of my key goals is to increase Bel Canto membership from its current roster of 350 members to 750 by 2016.  I ask those of you not yet in Bel Canto to learn more about the numerous and easy ways you can provide for the Opera through your estate. Our website is an excellent source of information.

Thanks to all the strategic planning we’ve done over the past two years, I’m happy to report that much progress has been made.  But there is still work to be done if we want to protect our mission of being a leading international opera company.  This brings me back to the Lobster Room.  You might say that record of our artistic accomplishments is our most tangible legacy.  We must continue to create those transcendent experiences in everything we put on stage.  There is a reason that world-class opera is expensive, a reason why no leading international opera company has cut its way to greatness.  Remaining “world class” requires investment.

What makes an opera company “world class”?  For me, world-class is a multi-faceted concept that takes into account not just the quality of the art, but the ethos and ethic of the whole company and how it exists in the world as well as in its community.  I think of world-class as having 6 key dimensions:

Star Power. Bringing the greatest singers, conductors and directors to the opera house on a regular basis, creating performances that stand tall against any in the world. 

Creativity. Being a vanguard organization, creating cutting-edge works and approaches.

Signature. Embodying a particular aesthetic that evolves over time. I believe SFO’s signature to be great singing and great musical values in productions that are fresh, clean, efficient, and sensitive to the musical work.

Exposure. Attracting significant attention in the national and international press, along with extensive exposure in the “mediasphere” through DVDs, cinema presentations, television, etc.

Professionalism. Consistent execution at the highest level through the company’s infrastructure.

There would be no world-class opera in San Francisco without you.  I know you are as proud of your involvement in the Opera as we are proud to have you in our family.

And that’s why I feel comfortable saying to you that all of us who care about this Company, its history, and its ability to present great opera in the future, have important work to do together.  Is there any question in our minds that we must ensure San Francisco Opera has the resources it needs?  Can we let this storied institution slide from the heights as approaches its 100th birthday?  No.  Not as a new generation is just beginning to discover—as so many of us discovered decades ago—the meaning great opera adds to our lives.   Not as the economy appears to be recovering.  I know with your help, we can find the funds we need, meet our mission, and remain at the pinnacle.

You are our greatest evangelists.  As we continue to build a legacy of artistic excellence, I ask each of you to share the Opera with your family, friends and colleagues.  Think about why this Company means so much to you, and what kind of legacy you want it to have.  Join us in building that legacy by continuing to make annual gifts (and increasing them if you can), joining the Bel Canto Legacy Society, and encouraging people in your networks to attend and support San Francisco Opera.   As we approach our 90th season, I invite you to become an ambassador for great opera in San Francisco and help us secure a legacy of world-class opera performances that continue to inspire and transcend.   

Thank you for your attention and for all you do for San Francisco Opera. 

Find out more about how you can become a  90th Season Ambassador for San Francisco Opera by inviting your friends, family and colleagues to join you in participating in San Francisco Opera events and activities. For more information, please email here.