SFOpera - Looking Back: Working with David Gockley

Looking Back: Working with David Gockley

Andrew Morgan has been with San Francisco Opera for over eight years in various roles within the Development Department, and currently serves as Director of Individual and Leadership Giving. With an extensive background as a professional singer and stage director, he came to opera at an early age and developed a passion for the high production values that are a hallmark of San Francisco Opera. Below, Andrew shares some of his fondest memories from David Gockley’s tenure with the Company.

I am fortunate to have been raised in a home where classical music, especially opera, was held in high regard. I was introduced to the joys of singing by my mother, who was a talented amateur singer. Her many solos in our church choir inspired me to follow in her footsteps, although I tried for the professional track that she would have never considered growing up in rural South Carolina. While her taste in music veers more toward big band and operetta (she had such a crush on Nelson Eddy…which I know dates both her and me!), my father’s passion has always been opera. While neither I nor my brothers appreciated it at the time (and my brothers still don’t…), the TV was always commandeered when the Met was broadcasting so my dad could watch and, usually, hum along. Later in his life when he was able to consider attending our hometown opera company, Lyric Opera of Chicago, I was frequently a lucky recipient of his companion tickets.

So imagine his excitement when I nabbed a position with San Francisco Opera! And getting to work with one of American opera’s greatest impresarios, David Gockley? I can tell you that his reaction to the news was only a bit less enthusiastic than when I got to sing in the chorus under Robert Shaw for performances of the Brahms Requiem with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra (I know I digress but… Arlene Auger was the soprano soloist – sublime!). He was thrilled, and so was I! I had of course attended San Francisco Opera off and on for many years with my husband, Danny, but to actually get to work here? Wow! I cannot tell you how much I’ve learned from David, not to mention Matthew Shilvock and everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with over these 8+ years. We not only have the best staff in the business, but also the most passionate patrons. David’s love of this great art, and his deep knowledge of the business of opera, inspires everyone around him.

Since one of the things I love most about opera is its power to instill in us the strongest of memories, I thought I might relate two items from my past that have provided special meaning for me during my time working with David.

Who can forget their first opera? Or at least, the one that inspired the “Aha!” moment where you suddenly understand why people love opera. (The same thing can be said of wine, IMHO…) For me, that opera was a production of Il Trovatore at Lyric Opera starring Shirley Verrett as Azucena (as a tenor, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t recall who played Manrico). I remember having absolute chills during Verrett’s searing rendition of “Stride la vampa.” So I was thrilled to hear it again during my second season with the Company, this time with a riveting performance by Stephanie Blythe in the Gypsy role and Sondra Radvanovsky as a radiant Leonora. It was one of the many “pinch myself” moments I’ve had working for this Company.

One of my most vivid memories of the Met broadcasts my father loved so much was the 1983 production of Trojans starring Placido Domingo, Tatiana Troyanos and Jessye Norman. So imagine my delight when I learned that San Francisco Opera was planning to mount this most spectacular of operas, and with arguably the best cast ever put together for this work? There were so many magical moments surrounding this production, but two in particular stand out for me, and they both involve tears. The first was seeing the gargantuan unit set for David McVicar’s production. You don’t often see something so overwhelming that it literally takes your breath away but this was one for me. I could not help but tear up as I saw all the minute details that went into this huge set, and the passion our own crew felt around bringing it all to life on our stage. The second was at the final performance, standing by David as we watched together on a monitor that lives near the Opera Gift Shop on the Mezzanine level. Anna Caterina Antonacci had just finished her final scene as Cassandra, and she was even more riveting than usual, obviously giving it her all for this last performance. I myself was choked up and somewhat breathless, but imagine my wonder at turning to David and finding tears running down his face. This production would never have happened without the sheer force of his will in making it happen, and I think the impact finally had caught up with him.

These are only a few of the memories I have of working with David, and I look forward to creating new memories with Matthew – and all of our amazing patrons – as we move into a new era for San Francisco Opera.

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