- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Matthew Shilvock will succeed David Gockley as general director of the San Francisco Opera on Aug. 1, 2016, after serving as associate general director since 2010.

Gockley, 72, announced last October that he planned to retire after the 2015-16 season. Shilvock has worked under Gockley for a dozen years in both Houston and San Francisco, and his promotion was announced Tuesday.

Born in Kidderminster, England, Shilvock, turns 39 on Oct. 27 and represents a general change.

Given a five-year contract, he will take over the nation’s second-largest opera company at a challenging time for U.S. arts institutions dealing with how to replace an aging audience and to adapt to a ticket model that includes fewer season subscriptions. Companies must balance opera enthusiasts who seek cutting-edge stagings that reinterpret the core repertory while at the same time building a new audience unfamiliar with those works.

“We want people’s first experience in the opera house to be resonant and to be exciting and to be to some degree comfortable, so that they will come back,” Shilvock said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “So I think we have to treat the ‘Traviatas’ and ‘Bohemes’ very sensitively.”

Shilvock’s first season includes the previously announced world premiere of Bright Sheng’s “Dream of the Red Chamber,” scheduled to open in autumn 2016. San Francisco’s first season under his full planning will be 2018-19.

Unlike their European counterparts, U.S. companies have very little government assistance, which factors into decisions on operas and directors.

“Our patrons are also our investors, and because many of our core subscribers are also our most generous philanthropists, we need to make sure that our programming jibes with their expectations, what they’d like to see onstage,” Shilvock said. “That doesn’t mean that we have to be conservative. Many of them have very adventurous tastes and interests, but I think it does mean that we have to be careful about what happens on our stage.”

Gockley replaced Pamela Rosenberg, who mounted ambitious seasons from 2001-05 that led to deficits. Gockley’s tenure included the world premieres of Philip Glass’ “Appomattox,” Stewart Wallace’s “The Bonesetter’s Daughter,” Christopher Theofanidis’ “Heart of a Soldier,” Nolan Gasser’s “The Secret Garden,” Mark Adamo’s “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” Tobias Picker’s “Dolores Claiborne” and Marco Tulino’s “La Ciociara (Two Women).”

“We absolutely need to continue an important and vibrant commissioning program,” Shilvock said. “That is really the kind of creative pinnacle of what a company can do.”

In addition to the 3,200-seat main stage at the War Memorial Opera House, the company plans to open a 299-seat Atrium Theater next year as part of the Wilsey Center in the adjacent Veterans Building, allowing it to stage more baroque and contemporary performances.

In 2013-14, the last season whose finances have been released, the company had a $348,244 deficit on an operating budget of $74.1 million.

“This is certainly a business that has not gotten easier over time,” he said. “Every year it takes a little more to achieve the same in terms of costs and structure.”

Shilvock came to the U.S. in 2002 on an Opera America fellowship and spent time with companies at Pittsburgh, Houston and Glimmerglass. The following year he became a liaison for Gockley at the Houston Grand Opera, which Gockley had headed since 1972, and Shilvock moved to San Francisco as part of the transition team when Gockley was hired in 2005.

After starting as the general director’s associate, Shilvock became director of new initiatives in 2007, assistant general director in 2008 and associate general director in 2010. Among the initiatives he worked on were simulcasts of performances at AT&T; Park.


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