If the city felt a little light on Houston Grand Opera heavyweights last week, it was because many had headed west for one of the most operatically glamorous evenings that city has ever hosted. A sparkling champagne reception and a lavish late-night dinner bookended a three-hour musical salute to San Francisco Opera's retiring general director David Gockley.
Among those with key roles on this starry, starry night at the War Memorial Opera House was the evening's honorary co-chair Lynn Wyatt, long-time Gockley friend and HGO vice chairman.
(Gockley built his reputation as one of the world's leading opera impressarios during his 33 year tenure with Houston Grand Opera. He left HGO in 2005 to take the helm at the San Francisco company yet he maintains close friends and has family members in Houston. One of the rehearsal halls at Wortham Theater Center is named in his honor.)
Before guests headed for their seats in the opera house, a heady contingent of 450 assembled in the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera in the adjacent Beaux Arts style Veterans Building for cocktails. Houstonians in the mix included Terrylin Neale, senior chairman of the HGO Endowment; longtime HGO patrons Bobbie-Vee and Gerald Cooney; composer Carlisle Floyd and one-time HGO director of development under Gockley Jack Mastroianni, today a corporate consultant with IMG Artists.
The "Celebrating David!" concert was an opera fan's dream with leading talent from across the world participating. Celebrated soprano Renée Fleming, whose career was launched by Gockley at HGO, was joined by opera greats Michael Fabiano, Thomas Hampson, Patricia Racette, Houston's own Ana Maria Martinez, and many more. Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce DiDonato, Plácido Domingo and Francesca Zambello, each important players in Gockley's career, sent tributes via video.
A full recounting of the three-hour concert can be found here.
During the evening, Gockley presented Fleming with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the company's highest honor, and San Francisco Opera president Keith Geeslin announced that on Gockley's retirement next month, he would assume the role of general director emeritus, an unprecedented position in the company.
Applauding their father's celebration were his three children — Lauren Gockley, Adam Gockley and Meredith Gockley Hedemann, accompanied by her husband, artist Travis Hedemann.
At the concert's end, invited guests joined Gockley back at the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera for a gala dinner saluting the man and his 10 seasons with San Francisco Opera. Houstonians in the mix included Mariana Servitje, Maria and Mick Seidl, Anne Munitz, Rhonda and Donald Sweeney, Fredericka Huynter, Bob Bruni, Gloria Portela, Sharon and Lanny Martin, Brenda Harvey-Traylor, Diane Zola, Jane Matheny, Michael Gieleta, and Mary Fanidi.