Known around the world as a (soft-spoken) lion among art managers, S.F. Opera general director David Gockley announced his retirement today, effective in 2016, promising “surprises coming in the next 22 months because I am not going out like a lamb.”
Almost uniquely in the volatile world of opera, Gockley is leaving on his own volition, and to the regret of the board, the staff, and even usually hyper-critical music critics.
At a press conference in the War Memorial, as praise was heaped on Gockley, he said that after 44 years as a top arts executive and what will be a decade-long appointment here in 2016 as he is turning 73, there should be a “new leader with fresh ideas, energy, eyes, and ears.” No CEO should stay more than 10 years (in any business), he added, although he headed the Houston Grand Opera for 33, making it a major, pioneering company with the presentation of new works.
Music Director Nicola Luisotti, hired by Gockley, called him a “living legend.” S.F. Opera Association President Keith Geeslin credited Gockley with turning the company around from a dangerous fiscal crisis that coincided with the Recession of 2009.
Back then, Gockley warned that “The ‘business as usual’ model will cripple San Francisco opera in the next two years if there is not major change.” By handling complex labor contracts to general satisfaction, and raising tens of millions of dollars in contributions, Gockley made that change happen, and the company is in good shape today.
During his intendancy, the company presented world-famous singers in classical operas and commissioned bold new works. He initiated free live streamings of opera in AT&T Park and elsewhere, created a media center to capture performances for broadcast, telecast, DVDs, and Blu-ray.
At the request of the board, Gockley will plan two seasons beyond this retirement, and conclude the 2018 season with a revival of his biggest, most successful project, Richard Wagner’s 16-hour tetralogy of the “Ring of the Nibelung.”
When the company presented three cycles of the massive “Ring” in 2011, thousands of visitors from the US and abroad contributed millions of dollars to The City’s hotel and restaurant businesses.
Gockley said he will maintain his Sausalito residence in his retirement.