This morning San Francisco Opera (SFO) announced that Matthew Shilvock will assume the position of General Director on August 1, 2016, following the conclusion of David Gockley’s tenure in that position at the end of July. At that time Shilvock will begin a five-year contract as SFO’s seventh director. Shilvock joined SFO in 2005 and was appointed Associate General Director in 2010. This is apparently only the second time that this position has been filled by promoting a member of the SFO staff. The first was when Kurt Hebert Adler succeeded Gaetano Merola, who had hired him as chorus director in 1943. Adler served as acting Artistic Director following Merola’s death in 1953 and was confirmed as General Director three months later.
As General Director Gockley was distinguished by his ability to manage the full spectrum of SFO activities, not only artistic but also regarding both day-to-day business operations and the never-ending responsibility of fund-raising. In his current position Shilvock leads five SFO departments: Music Operations (orchestra, chorus, dancers, commissions), Electronic Media (including everything associated with the Koret-Taube Media Suite, which Gockley planned and launched in 2007), Education, the San Francisco Opera Center (professional artist training programs), and Rehearsal. Since March of 2015, Shilvock has also served as Interim Director of Development.
Prior to coming to San Francisco, Shilvock was a 2002 Fellow with OPERA America, the national service organization for opera companies in North America. That fellowship provided him with assignments with the Pittsburgh Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Glimmerglass Opera; and the following year he joined Houston Grand Opera as the General Director’s Liaison, working directly for Gockley. He moved to San Francisco as part of Gockley’s transition team following Gockley’s appointment as General Director. According to Steven Menzies, Chairman of the Search Committee, Shilvock was selected from a pool of 70 potential candidates, filtered down successively to 50, 17, 5, and ultimately 3 finalists.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Shilvock’s acceptance remarks this morning was his emphasis on the narrative power of opera. Opera provided the most multimedia approach to storytelling long before the word “multimedia” was accepted by the Oxford English Dictionary. His recognition that the act of storytelling should be recognized prior to the act of making music or the act of stage direction marked a prioritization that is not often encountered in the management of opera companies, and it should not go unnoticed.
However, Shilvock also made note of specific areas of focus that would occupy his attention from the beginning of his tenure. High on the list was the strengthening of SFO’s “image” as a “trusted place” (Shilvock’s words) for both the old and the new. He also discussed strengthening relationships between SFO and other performing arts organizations in the Bay Area. He saw the launch of the Wilsey Center, another product of Gockley’s initiative, as providing a venue for adding diversity to SFO programming. Finally, beyond the Bay Area Shilvock discussed exploring strategic relations with other Pacific Rim venues, thus taking advantage of working on the Pacific, rather than the Atlantic, coast.
All this amounts to the promise of a smooth transition at the “upper management” level and hopes for stimulating offerings from SFO under Shilvock’s tenure.