David Gockley

SF Opera's The Magic Flute (Bowden/Shafer)

_B5A6077* Notes * 
A revival of The Magic Flute opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The production has been beset with casting changes since August, and two more were announced from the War Memorial stage by General Director David Gockley before the performance. Adler Julie Adams sang First Lady for Jacqueline Piccolino and Kathryn Bowden filled in for Albina Shagimuratova, both replaced artists were apparently ailing. All four substitutions were more than adequate, in fact, Efraín Solís as Papageno and Sarah Shafer as Pamina (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver), standing in for former Adlers Philippe Sly and Nadine Sierra, may have stolen the show.

Solís has a ton of charisma, and is an absolute delight. His voice has much warmth and liveliness. Shafer gave a distinctive and emotionally nuanced performance, quite a feat as Pamina can be a pretty flat character. Kathryn Bowden muscled through her arias, her Queen of the Night did not sound ravishingly beautiful but she definitely hit every note and it was impressive, if not a bit terrifying.

The three ladies, Julie Adams, Nian Wang, and Zanda Švēde, sounded wonderful and there was no shrillness at all. Greg Fedderly perfectly reprised his role as Monostatos and was entirely hilarious during the magic bell scene when Papageno enchants him and the male chorus. Paul Appleby was fine as Tamino, though somewhat wooden, his sound is bright and has good volume.

The orchestra did not shine under the baton of conductor Lawrence Foster. There were a lot of obvious errors, the balances were off and the playing was sloppy. In fact, the chaos made me feel seasick, and I had to close my eyes to regain a sense of stillness.

Jun Kaneko's production is still as adorable as ever. It is not a dramatic rendering and does not help explain what is going on in this opera, but the abstractness of the design helps keep the action moving and is attractive.

The English translation is awkward but seems to engage the audience. I often indulged myself in thinking of the original German lines as the performers sang. One has to feel for the non-native English speakers in this piece, accents are fairly noticeable and the words are a compromise at best, so can sound stilted even when sung by Americans.

* Tattling * 
There were some whispers but the back of the balcony was relatively well-behaved.

SF Opera's 2015-2016 Season

Open-house-david-wakelySeptember 11-27 2015: Luisa Miller
September 12-29 2015: Sweeney Todd
October 8-28 2015: Lucia di Lammermoor
October 20- November 20 2015: The Magic Flute
November 18- December 6 2015: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
November 25- December 9 2015: Il barbiere di Siviglia
December 8-13 2015: Usher House and La Chute de la Maison Usher
May 27- July 3 2016: Carmen
June 12-29 2016: Don Carlo
June 14-July 1 2016: Jenůfa

David Gockley announced his last season at San Francisco Opera today. Leah Crocetto, Michael Fabiano and Thomas Hampson star in Luisa Miller. Gerald Finley is Sweeney Todd opposite Stephanie Blythe. Diana Damrau sings the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor. Greer Grimsley and Brandon Jovanovich sing in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Calixto Bieito's production of Carmen features two casts. René Pape is Philip II in Don Carlo. Karita Mattila is Kostelnička in Jenůfa.

Press Release

Gockley Announces Retirement

GockleySan Francisco Opera's General Director, David Gockley (pictured left, photograph by Terrence McCarthy), has announced his retirement in July 2016. He concludes a ten-year, seven-month tenure with the Company and a career spanning 44 years. Gockley, who will be 73 at the end of the 2015–2016 season, became the Company's sixth general director when he joined San Francisco Opera in January 2006. The announcement was made at a War Memorial Opera House press conference today.

Press Release | Official Site

SF Opera Annual Meeting 2014

Floyd* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Annual Meeting for 2014 was held Thursday afternoon at Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall in San Francisco. Chairman of the Board John A. Gunn, Board of Directors President Keith B. Geeslin, CFO Michael Simpson, and General Director David Gockley all spoke. Both Geeslin and Gockley expressed concern over San Diego Opera's closing, since it has been well-run and has presented world-class talent. San Francisco Opera ran a deficit again, subscriptions continue to drop off, but the endowment is at an all-time high. The new Opera Center in the Veterans Building will start being built in January of next year. Once it opens, the plan is to program a Baroque opera each February, a family opera in March, and a contemporary opera in April. We also learnt that the DVD of San Francisco Opera's Porgy and Bess will be released next Tuesday.

Composer Carlisle Floyd joined us for the meeting, and was interviewed by David Gockley. Floyd's Susannah will be performed next season, and we were told about the composer's career. His next opera premieres in Houston. Three Adlers and one Adler alumna performed four pieces from Susannah: pianist Noah Lindquist; tenor A.J.Glueckert; baritone Hadleigh Adams; and soprano Rhoslyn Jones. Jones sang "Ain't it a Pretty Night" with particular poignancy.

* Tattling *
During the reception after the meeting David Gockley asked me where I had been and I assured him I would make myself less scarce given that a Baroque opera is programmed this fall.

Auditions for the General Director 2013

Merola-general-director-auditions-2013* Notes *
The Auditions for the General Director of San Francisco Opera occurred last night after the matinée performance of Les Contes d'Hoffmann. The twenty-three singers in the Merola Opera Program performed, each accompanied by one of five apprentice coaches. There were some interesting tenors and mezzo-sopranos. The baritones, though all very loud and competent, seemed a little bland this year.

Mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb, tenor Issachah Savage, soprano Maria Valdes, mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde, tenor Pene Pati, and mezzo-soprano Daryl Freedman were called back. Both of these tenors had a robust warmth and their own particular sound. Švēde was most distinctive of the these female singers, her voice is quite deep. Pati and Freedman were especially praised by David Gockley.

Of those not called back, Gockley seemed most enthused about baritone Chris Carr, soprano Aviva Fortunata, tenor Matthew Newlin, and bass-baritone Thomas Richards.

Auditions for the General Director 2012

Merola-general-director-auditions-2012.jpg* Notes *
The Auditions for the General Director of San Francisco Opera occurred last night after the this season's last performance of Attila. The twenty-three singers in the Merola Opera Program performed, each accompanied by one of five apprentice coaches. This year there are many talented tenors. Many Mozart arias were heard.

Soprano Jacqueline Piccolino, tenor AJ Glueckert, mezzo-soprano Erin Johnson, soprano Rose Sawvel, soprano Elizabeth Baldwin, tenor Chuanyue Wang, mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko, soprano Jennifer Cherest, and bass-baritone Hadleigh Adams were called back.

David Gockley seemed most enthused about tenors Yi Li, Andrew Stenson, and Chuanyue Wang. Li sang "Pourquoi me réveiller" from Werther, Stenson sang "Di rigori armato" from Der Rosenkavalier, and Wang sang "La mia letizia infondere...Come poteva un angelo" from I Lombardi alla prima crociata and "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön" from Die Zauberflöte.

SF Opera Annual Meeting 2012


* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Annual Meeting for 2012 was held Thursday afternoon at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco. Board of Directors President George H. Hume, CFO Michael Simpson, and General Director David Gockley all spoke. The outlook this year is better, though the company did run a deficit again, donations are up and they expect to break even in 2013. The most interesting plan we heard about was the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which is to be built on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building in the War Memorial complex. This will provide space to house most of the opera's operations including the costume shop, space for rehearsals, and a small performance venue. There will also be room to house an archive of San Francisco Opera's recordings on various media.

Four Adlers performed: soprano Marina Harris; mezzo sopranos Laura Krumm and Renée Rapier; and pianist Robert Mollicone. Rapier sang "All' afflitto" from Roberto Devereux , Harris sang "Einsam in trüben Tagen," from Lohengrin, and Krumm sang "Quis fais-tu, blanche tourterelle" from Roméo et Juliette.

* Tattling *
Somehow I managed to spill ink all over both my hands at the very beginning of the meeting. The people next to me offered me tissues and wipes. Three mobile phones rang at different points during the proceedings.

Auditions for the General Director 2011

Gd-auditions-2011 * Notes *
This year's Auditions for the General Director of San Francisco Opera were this evening, featuring the participants of the Merola Opera Program. The quality of singing was consistent and very nice. We heard quite a few arias in English and Russian. Mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel, bass Peixin Chen, soprano Elizabeth Zharoff, bass-baritone Philippe Sly, soprano Xi Wang, tenor Cooper Nolan, soprano Marina Boudart Harris, baritone Goudong Fang, and mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm were called back. David Gockley seemed most enthused about Chen and Sly. Chen sang "Si La Rigueur" from La Juive and "La Vendetta" from Le Nozze di Figaro. Sly sang "O du mein holder Abendstern" from Tannhäuser and "Sibillar gli angui d'Aletto" from Rinaldo.

Heart of a Soldier Press Conference

01122010 003 * Notes * 
Today the Communications Department of San Francisco Opera held a press conference on Heart of a Soldier, which will have a world premiere on September 10, 2011. General Director David Gockley told us a bit about how this came to be an opera. An array of individuals were introduced: Susan Rescorla, one of the people whose story is being told in this opera; James B. Stewart, the author of the non-fiction work the opera is based on; librettist Donna DiNovelli; composer Christopher Theofanidis; conductor Patrick Summers; and director Francesca Zambello. Zambello evidently came to Gockley with Stewart's book, saying that the story had operatic themes with two incredible love stories.

This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Kip Cranna, who asked each person involved a few key questions. DiNovelli condensed Stewart's 320 page book into a mere 26. The piece is complete and has been workshopped in the last few days. Theofanidis took Tosca as his starting point and loves verismo. The work uses a full orchestra but also employs saxophone, bagpipe, and electric guitar.

The opera stars Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla), William Burden (Daniel J. Hill), and Melody Moore (Susan Rescorla). We got to hear a duet from the piece accompanied by piano, sung by Melody Moore and Austin Kness.

* Tattling * 
The audience consist of the press, board members, colleagues from other performing arts organizations, and San Francisco Opera staff. Everyone seemed very attentive.

Plácido Domingo's SF Opera Press Event

Placido- Domingo2010 * Notes * 
Today the Communications Department of San Francisco Opera hosted an event with Plácido Domingo in conversation with David Gockley. Domingo will be singing the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac, which opens Sunday, and Gockley spoke a bit about how this was arranged, why we are getting a production from Théâtre du Châtelet, and asked Domingo to tell us more about this opera. We heard about Alfano and how he was the contemporary of Janáček, Berg, and Schoenberg. It was pointed out that Domingo is singing two poets this season back to back, since he just finished as Neruda in Los Angeles Opera's Il Postino. The famous story of how Domingo flew in for the opening of the 1983-1984 season to fill in for an ailing Otello was recounted and he joked that 25,000 people claimed to have been there even though the opera house only seats 3,200.

Gockley had Domingo speak about taking on baritone roles, and made fun of his own voice, since he is a baritone. The music director, Maestro Nicola Luisotti, was also in attendance, and Domingo complimented Luisotti's fine baritone. As for Domingo himself, he said he does not pretend to be a baritone, but likes doing these interesting roles and has to color his voice very differently for them. At one point he had imagined that Simon Boccanegra would be his last role, and has done 28 performances. His voice is still in good condition, so he wants to sing everyday that he can, but to not sing one more day once he cannot. His next new baritone role is Athanaël in Thaïs, which he will perform in Paris and Valencia soon. He quipped that it was appropriate for his age, since Athanaël is a monk. Charmingly, he also said that Cyrano was likewise good for him in this way, since Cyrano is a "loser," and can be any age. On this more human side, we heard about what Domingo does in his downtime, and he apparently recharges by the results of his work. He is a Real Madrid fan and also watches telenovelas with his wife Marta, who was in attendance.

During the question and answer period Domingo was asked how he takes care of his voice, since he still sounds so youthful and fresh. One should not drink terribly cold water, and one cannot drink warm beer. Domingo finds it better to eat lunch late, around 2pm and then have dinner after his performance. Ideally as a tenor one should rest 3 or 4 days if possible. Questions were asked bout San Francisco's charm, and Domingo praised San Francisco Opera as one of the most important companies in the world. He did tease us about how there were some bad years before Gockley's tenure that were good for his company, Los Angeles Opera. The challenges of behing the general director out on the West Coast were discussed. It is difficult to get artists out here, in Europe a singer can get to different houses more easily and the euro is so strong.

Domingo was questioned about the recent Ring at Los Angeles Opera, and he conceded that perhaps two cycles would have been sufficient. That production was to have gone to Mannheim and Seville, but will not. It may still be produced in Korea or Argentina. He was asked about the recent simulcast of Rigoletto in Mantua that he participated in, and he told us he did not feel that opera in cinemas would steal the audience from the opera house.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet but a cellular phone rang during the aforementioned question about San Francisco as a city. David Gockley was kind enough to call on me for a question, and Nicola Luisotti was gracious enough to introduce me to Plácido Domingo. I encouraged the delightful North American editor of MusicalCriticism.com to have our photograph taken together with Domingo.

Opera in the Park 2010

Operainthepark2010 * Notes *
San Francisco Opera's 37th Opera in the Park event was Nicola Luisotti's second as music director. The performance is entertaining every year, and this was no exception. The afternoon began with the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, and gave us a preview of how this will sound when the latest revival opens on Tuesday September 21st. In keeping with this, Michèle Losier sang Cherubino's "Non so più," followed by Luca Pisaroni in "Non più andrai," and Danielle de Niese in "Giunse alfin il momento...Deh, vieni, non tardar." Dolora Zajick sang "La luce langue" from Macbeth stridently and Brian Mulligan sang "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Faust sweetly. Marco Vratogna sang the Act III aria "Nemico della Patria" from Andrea Chénier, which David Gockley says we will hear soon enough at the War Memorial. "Pourquoi me réveiller" from Werther was sung by Ramón Vargas, and this opera opens for the first time in perhaps 25 years at SF Opera on Wednesday. The first half closed with David Lomelí, Leah Crocetto, Heidi Stober, and Brian Mulligan singing the famous quartet from Rigoletto, "Un di se ben rammentomi...Bella figlia dell'amore."

I had to leave at intermission, but I did hear the rehearsal of this performance earlier in the day. The second half started with the overture to Il barbiere di Siviglia, followed by Lucas Meachem in the famous "Largo al factotum." One does look forward to his Count in Le Nozze di Figaro and his fellow cast members Luca Pisaroni and Danielle de Niese, who sang "Là ci darem la mano." David Lomelí performed "La donna è mobile." Then there was much Puccini with Micaela Carosi singing "Vissi d'Arte," Leah Crocetto and Brian Jadge "Bimba, dagli occhi pieni," and Marcello Giordani in "Nessun Dorma." The performance ended with the usual "Libiamo ne'lieti calici" from La Traviata. I believe the encore must have been "O Sole Mio," sung by David Lomelí, Brian Jadge, Ramón Vargas, and Marcello Giordani.

* Tattling * 
The day started off rather foggy and cold, and the Maestro wore his white sweater instead of having it draped in his normal fashion. The Maestro sang a respectable "Non più andrai," whilst rehearsing the orchestra. The sun did come out, and I was able to convince Axel Feldheim to come to the park and sing the National Anthem with me for the second time in 24 hours.

General Director David Gockley was in his usual spot on stage much of the time and introduced groups of pieces. He inadvertently skipped over the two Mozart pieces after Cherubino's aria, and Luisotti teasingly said that Gockley "didn't know the season."

Auditions for the General Director 2010

Merola-2010 * Notes *
This year's Auditions for the General Director of San Francisco Opera were yesterday evening, featuring the participants of the Merola Opera Program. All of the singers were very good, as were the pianists.

This year we only have one returning Merolino, Eleazar Rodríguez, who sang "Sì, ritorvarla io giuro," with those dizzying high Cs, from La Cenerentola. As for the new singers, Rebecca Davis was particularly impressive, as were Daniel Montenegro and Hye Jung Lee. Davis, accompanied by Natalia Katyukova, was probably the most polished, and her "Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém" (Song to the Moon) was gorgeous. She was called back to sing Magda's big number in La Rondine, and she did splendidly. Given that she sang the role recently at Opera San José, and she is perhaps the eldest of the Merolini, it all does make sense that she did so well.

Daniel Montenegro, accompanied by Michael Spassov, sounded very lovely indeed in "Una furtiva lagrima." His voice has an interesting metallic quality, and his head voice and chest voice sound uniform, without strain for the higher notes. When called back Montenegro sang "La mia letizia infondere," Oronte's aria from I Lombardi. It was a little less smooth, but still very beautiful. Hye Jung Lee sounded sweet in both "Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln" and Zerbinetta's aria from Ariadne auf Naxos. Her accompanist was Jenna Douglas.

In addition to Rebecca, Daniel, and Hye Jung, David Gockley called back the very talented Sidney Outlaw, Kevin Ray, Nadine Sierra, and Ryan Kuster. Sierra was definitely the most attractive as far as looks and presence. Her one-shoulder black dress was striking, and her singing was strong as well.

* Tattling *
Ao Li still has not made it to San Francisco, it seems. As usual, the Pride celebration was taking place during the last Sunday of the month at Civic Center, so we did start a few minutes late. Box E was well-behaved and attentive. A watch alarm was heard in the hall at 8pm. The floor must have been either not level or not smooth, because the singers had difficulty walking on and off stage.

Many, if not all, the Adlers were in attendance, including Leah Crocetto, Sara Gartland, Maya Lahyani, David Lomelí, Allen Periello, and Tamara Sanikidze. Also spotted was Eva-Maria Westbroek, who is currently singing Sieglinde here.

SF Opera Annual Meeting 2010

* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Annual Meeting for 2010 was held yesterday afternoon, over in Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall A at the Symphony. Board of Directors President George H. Hume, General Director David Gockley, and CFO Michael Simpson gave reports as usual. Again, this year the outlook was on the gloomy side, though the endowment has recovered since last time. On the other hand, 50% of all donations to SF Opera come from just 19 people, a precarious situation to say the least. Full subscriptions continue to decline, there is an accumulated deficit, and many cuts were made.
Plans afoot to solve the various problems include recapitalization, reconfiguring of the opera schedule, reducing fixed costs, investment in facilities, and building the endowment.

Gregory Henkel, Director of Artistic Administration at San Francisco Opera, also addressed us. He spoke about the joys and challenges of casting for the company, and about how splendidly the Merolini and Adlers did at the Met auditions.

Five Adlers performed, sopranos Leah Crocetto and Sara Gartland, mezzo soprano Maya Lahyani, countertenor Ryan Belongie, and pianist Tamara Sanikidze. Lahyani sang "Va, laisse couler mes larmes" from Werther with great beauty. Belongie sang Arsamene's aria "Sì, la voglio," from Serse. His transitions between the different parts of his voice were flawless. Gartland's "Deh vieni, non tardar" was very pretty. Crocetto and Lahyani gave a heartrending performance of "Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio."

* Tattling *
I was particularly ill-behaved at this meeting, for one thing, I was at least 5 minutes late, as the BART train ahead of mine was having mechanical issues. Secondly, I answered the survey that we were to fill out in my own deadly earnest yet entirely silly manner. I hope the person who has to read that gets a good laugh. Two cellular phones rang at different points whilst people were speaking.

In other news, we may well have Fleming, Radvanovsky, and Hampson to look forward to in coming seasons.