Sunday, February 20, 2005

Gockley in SF: so far so good

David Gockley in Houston

So what are we to expect of David Gockley's
regime at the SF Opera, when the man takes
over on Jan. 1st of 2006?  

It's a good thing Gockley has a reputation for
being a diplomat, because diplomacy will be
what he'll need when he arrives in town. His
first order of business may very well be to
appease those of us who feel that Pamela
Rosenberg got shafted, while at the same time
facing the reality that he might *not* be able
to populate the rosters of the company with
the big star marquee names at the frequency
that Rosenberg's MET-jealous naysayers are so
eagerly expecting. Besides, this more traditional
base of support at the SF opera -- the "prima la
crowd -- maybe in for a shock, when
they realize that Gockley is a fearless champion
of contemporary opera.

But all the news are good so far; Gockley seems
to be a solid choice, possibly the best American
candidate currently available. And hopefully, SFO's
incoming general director will be able to articulate
a vision for the company that is not only inspiring,
but one that is also as clearly stated as that of
his predecessor (a remarkable feat for Rosenberg,
considering that she had such tentative public
speaking skills). In Rosenberg's case, her ideas
had a polarizing effect in some quarters (but oh
how fun it was while it lasted!), and Gockley may
very well need to take some similar risks as well.
Certainly, the loudmouthed constituencies of the
SF Opera will need to know what the Houstonian
wants to do with the company, before they'll throw
their support behind him.

So to pass time while we wait to hear on Gockley's
ideas for SFO, I solicited a number of reactions from
various individuals and observers, some of whom
have worked with Gockley in Houston.

"I am thrilled with David's appointment as new General Director in San Francisco! As both of these houses are dear to my heart - San Francisco for being the cradle of my development as a young artist, and HGO for being the catalyst of my heightened profile in the U.S. as an international artist - I could not be more happy that my two worlds are meeting through the appointment of David Gockley in San Francisco. I don't know of anyone else in the business who has it all - vision, administrative excellence, and the ability to get financial donors excited about opera. David Gockley is the only person I can think of who can take the helm there and not only cope but thrive. He has a lot to bring to San Francisco. I think the coming years will be a relief for some beleaguered patrons and a wonderful renewal of the San Francisco Opera into its former glory. Selfishly, I also hope to be a part of that, as I miss singing at the War Memorial! The Symphony is fantastic, but it's only one part of "home."

-- Laura Claycomb, soprano.

"I have known David Gockley for more than twenty years. His leadership of the Houston Grand Opera has been exemplary; his enthusiasm for producing opera and his leadership in discovering and producing contemporary American opera have characterized his time in Houston. He has in every respect proved a vital force in American opera. I'm sure that he will bring to the San Francisco Opera the same enthusiasm and will make a great and strong company even stronger."

-- Speight Jenkins, Seattle Opera

"I am thrilled that David Gockley will be coming to San Francisco Opera. He is the ideal combination of a director with a bold and innovative vision together with all the necessary skills to work within the community to raise money and create excitement. We in the Bay Area should be proud of having found such a perfect person for the job. His track record in Houston is second to none."

-- Nicholas McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

"I was introduced to David Gockley when I worked for Kurt Herbert Adler during the 70s. I believe that Gockley's exemplary record of building the Houston Opera over four decades, his knowledge of opera in America and his friendship and association with the directors of the San Francisco Opera over these years equip him well to successfully meet the exciting new and bigger challenge of producing opera here in 2006 and beyond. I was especially pleased to hear him reference Spring Opera which I too was very enthusiastic about, in remembering so many wonderful productions like "Death
in Venice" and a staged "St. Matthew Passion" that Kurt Adler arranged in a smaller theater environment in the 70s."

-- Ruth Felt, San Francisco Performances

"David Gockley has done wonderful things for opera over the years he has been in Houston and I had the joy of doing my first Norma under his watchful care. His record has always been impressive and no doubt he will bring his remarkable skill, imagination, expertise and skill to a company that already has one of the greatest supporting "behind the scenes" people in the world. I wish all the best with his very blessed time in the most family like company I have ever known."

-- Carol Vaness, soprano

"Suffice to say that the man who helped bring Nixon in China into the world -- and who has been so fearless in his support for new American opera -- has to be good news."

-- Alex Ross,

[If you'd like to add your own opinions and views, feel free to
e-mail them to me, I'll post them here later as well.]

© 2005 C. Chang

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Off topic: Gerbils in the White House?

Gerbils in the White House?

Gannon, Guckert and gerbils -- off topic, but this is just too hilarious!

© 2005 C. Chang

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Friday, February 11, 2005

The competency of baritones
Christopher Maltman in San Francisco

The most common creature populating our vocal recital stages is undoubtedly the baritone art song recitalist, and members of this common genus need to work particularly hard to assert any sort of individual identity or artistic imprint. British baritone Christopher Maltman’s San Francisco recital debut at Herbst Theater last night provided a clear example of why competence alone won’t suffice for entrants in this crowded field.

Maltman was the winner of the prestigious Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1997 (the same contest which launched the careers of Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Bryn Terfel). His voice is focused, generally dark and dramatic, but carries a bright and overtone rich top. An ample volume comes easily to the singer, and I found myself thinking that perhaps he could be more judicious in his use of decibel power for interpretive impact. Otherwise, Maltman has beautiful clean diction, and is obviously thoughtful on matters of musical style.

Supported by the trusty pianist Roger Vignoles, Maltman opened a interesting but rather heavy handed set of Henry Purcell songs, including the last (and lesser known) of the composer’s three versions of If music be the food of love. The English undercurrent ran strong, as the singer then offered a reading of Ralph Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel. Maltman showed a nice affinity for these, contrasting moments of ravishing eloquence against the hollow spirit of a vagabond's endless search.

Pianist Roger Vignoles offered particularly notable partnership in the set of Carl Loewe songs, producing bouncy, prancing rhythms against Maltman's broad paced declamations in Herr Oluf. The pair's delivery of Edward was given a sweeping epic feel, with the alliterative interjections rendered with full sonorous impact. They also performed Loewe's setting of Goethe's Erlkoenig, a masterfully crafted though more restrained and self-contained version than Schubert's.

It was in the in selections by Hugo Wolf where Maltman failed to establish a greater sense of artistic originality. The reading captured the flow and rug-pull psychology of Wolf's enigmatic narratives, but interpretively found Maltman relying too much on his facility in accessing volume as a means to generate easy excitement. Maltman's concluding pair of encores, an excellent reading of Benjamin Britten's folksong setting Down by the Sally Gardens, and Flanders and Swann's humorous Have some Madeira, m'dear, reminded once again of his spirit and affinity for the songs of British composers.

© 2005 C. Chang

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Monday, February 07, 2005

Gockley it is

It's official: Houston Grand Opera's current General Director David Gockley has been appointed the new general director of the SF Opera -- the sixth in the company's history. Gockley's appointment becomes effective January 1st, 2006, but he will be shadowing outgoing director Pamela Rosenberg beginning in July.

© 2005 C. Chang

Want to be notified of new Bay Buzz articles? Send an e-mail message with the subject "PLEASE NOTIFY ME" to this address. (Names and addresses kept strictly confidential.)