Arts & Events

New: SF Opera Celebrates David Gockley

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday June 30, 2016 - 10:45:00 AM

On Thursday evening, June 16, the San Francisco Opera held a gala concert celebrating the ten-year reign of David Gockley as General Director of the company. Gockley, who is retiring at the end of the current summer season, came to SF Opera in 2006 from Houston Grand Opera, where he spent 33 seasons as General Director.

During his long career, Gockley has commissioned no less than 45 new operas.  


At the Gala, Introductory words of welcome were spoken by Gala Chairs John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn, as well as by Honorary Co-Chairs Diane B. Wilsey and Lynn Wyatt. Then conductor John DeMain took the podium to lead the Opera Orchestra in the overture to George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Once under way, the Gala Concert featured many of the stars who got their start under David Gockley’s tutelege. Soprano Renée Fleming was featured prominently in the concert, singing the solemn “Song to the Moon” from Dvořák’s Rusalka, the trio “Hab mir’s gelobt” from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier with Nadine Sierra and Sasha Cooke, “Sull aria… che soave zeffiretto” from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro with mezzo-soprano Heidi Stober, and “I can smell the sea” from André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Miss Fleming was also awarded by David Gockley the San Francisco Opera Medal of Honor for lifetime service.  

However, the real highlights of the concert were provided by several young singers. Soprano Ana Maria Martínez sang a ravishing aria, “Ain’t it a pretty night,” from Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, and, in the second half of the concert, soprano Nadine Sierra sang an absolutely incendiary duet with tenor Michael Fabiano, “Toi! Vous! N’est-ce plus ma main? “ from Jules Massenet’s Manon. Nadine Sierra’s portrayal of the repentant Manon declaring her love for Des Grieux and seeking to win him back was riveting in vocal and dramatic intensity. Tenor Michael Fabiano also brought down the house with his aria, “Quando le sere al placido,” from Verdi’s Luisa Miller. 

Not to be left in the lurch by all the young talent, veteran stars held their own. Soprano Karita Mattila was outstanding as Sieglinde in the finale of Act I from Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre. Bass René Pape added a jocular touch to his aria “Son lo spirito” from Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele. Mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick sang a robust “Voi lo sapete” from Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana. And soprano Patricia Racette sang an over-the-top melodramatic rendition of “Bill” from Jerome Kern’s Showboat.  

Interspersed among the musical performances were words from Frederica von Stade and Thomas Hampson plus recorded video messages of congratulations from Joyce DiDonato, Placido Domingo, and Cecilia Bartolli. (Though Bartolli has never sung with SF Opera, she did sing with Houston Grand Opera during Gockley’s tenure at that company.) 

Also noteworthy were performances by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, who filled in admirably for an ill Susan Graham, in the aria “Ah! Je vais mourir … Adieu, fière cite” from Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens, and tenor Brian Jagde, who sang a robust “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot. Bass-baritone Eric Owens sang “I got plenty of nothing” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Soprano Heidi Stober sang “Da tempeste” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare. And mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack sang “Tanti affeti” from Gioachino Rossini’s La donna del lago.” Baritone Edward Nelson sang the minimalist aria “News” from John Adams’ Nixon in China, and SF Opera’s Music Director Nicola Luisotti led the orchestra in the Intermezzo from Marco Tutino’s Two Women. As a final touch, David Gockley took the stage and humorously asked, “Are there any questions?” Then he thanked the audience and exhorted us to continue supporting opera so that, in the words of Voltaire’s Candide, set to music by Leonard Bernstein, “we may make our garden grow.” This aria was sung by a great number of singers and chorus members, with all of the evening’s participants eventually joining in, thereby bringing the Gala Concert to a fitting close.