Lives of Style: David Gockley 

He does a killer imitation of Donald Duck, kayaks an operose course off southern Marin, is a black belt at repartee and is known for his love of the outdoors. "Nature relaxes me," he says. He walks fast, speaks mellifluously, has a grin that melts icecaps — and he mixes a mean Margarita. (His are called "Divaritas" — he’s even designed his own logo: an armadillo with "Brunhilde" horns.)

He’s also erudite and incisively, artistically attuned to the exquisite equipoise of voice, music and theater; he’s a serious businessman whose business is opera. He’s friends with top-of-the-world socialites such as Lynn Wyatt of Houston and the crème de la crème of San Francisco, yet he has forged "a family of those who work with me."

This interesting juxtaposition of diverse, inclusive elements under one energetic, perspicacious and optimistic personage only hints at the exuberant grandiflora that is David Gockley.

It’s no surprise that a year ago he was welcomed with open arms, high regard and great anticipation, as the refreshing, invigorating new general director of the San Francisco Opera. This man whose casual dress and mien belie a razor-attenuated mind, is rife with scores of ideas for the Opera’s kinetic, glamorous, prosperous and overarching future, beginning with 2007-08, his first full season. He brings his vision of sheer world-class presence, resonance, artistic excellence and top-flight, international renown to thousands of opera aficionados and the general public alike.

You’d expect no less from a man who admixes words such as "scorecard" and "hospitable" with "libretto" and "basso cantante."

Coming from a "not necessarily unusual background," Philadelphia native David Gockley played high school sports (baseball and basketball), but he said from an early age, "I loved to sing." He excelled at "musicals, sang solos. Got involved in every glee club [and] singing group" at the New England Conservatory of Music, and later pursued conducting and composition at Brown, where he graduated with a B.A.

He received a master’s degree from Columbia University Business School and auditioned for "a few jobs" in New York, but then joined the Houston Grand Opera as business manager. In 1972, at age 29, he took over as general director. Under his 33-year leadership, the company won great acclaim: a Tony, two Emmys and two Grammys. It launched a record number of groundbreaking world premieres (35 — and six American premieres), initiated ambitious national and global tours, and broke new ground with free "Plazacasts" of opera productions.

Gockley, in his first few months as general director last year, broke "barriers that stand between people enjoying opera" and initiated the San Francisco Opera’s first free outdoor simulcasts, in Civic Center Plaza of "Madama Butterfly," and "Rigoletto" (also in Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater).

David Gockley’s multistoried residence is in harmony and synchronicity with nature: sky, sea and sun. His decks hug and overlook the Bay, with a breathtaking view of The City and Treasure Island. High ceilings, light walls add serenity. There’s an openness here. A sense that the setting is the just that: the backdrop. But the play, the real interaction, is generated by the visionary who abides in it.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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