San Francisco Opera appoints Matthew Shilvock as New General Director

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Matthew Shilvock, San Francisco Opera General Director Designate (Photo: Cory Weaver)

Editor’s Note: KQED is a partner of San Francisco Opera. The orgnizations collaborate on the annual broadcast of opera productions. 

Staging a night of opera is "a very complicated jigsaw puzzle," says Matthew Shilvock. Music, theater, dance, architecture and writing must be arranged into a coherent whole. Today, the San Francisco Opera announced Shilvock will become their primary puzzlemaster next August, as he steps into the role of general director, replacing David Gockley as he retires after 10 years at the helm of one of the country's biggest opera companies.

Shilvock first came on board with the San Francisco Opera as part of Gockley's transition team a decade ago and went on to become the company's associate general director in 2010. The two men had worked together at Houston Grand Opera for three years prior to coming to the Bay Area, where Gockley was general director and Shilvock was his liaison.

Currently Shilvock manages and leads six departments: music operations, electronic media, education, rehersal, development and the opera's professional artist training programs. Under his guidance, the opera began in 2007 it's program of free live opera simulcasts at the AT&T ballpark. Shilvock also negotiated the media rights to make it possible to commercially release performances on home video, television and the internet.

Over the past 10 years, the San Francisco Opera has transformed from running deep deficits to having relatively stable finances. Some opera aficionados have accused Gockley of staging one too many crowd-pleasing Puccini productions, but he's also known for mounting world premieres and for bringing musicals (including Porgy and Bess, Show Boat and this season's Sweeney Todd) to the opera stage. (Read Charlise Tiee's retrospective of Gockley's years at the San Francisco Opera for more on Gockley's tenure.)

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"Matthew now has the ultimate balancing act," says Marc Scorca, president and CEO of OPERA America, an opera service organization. Scorca, who describes Shilvock as "thorough, meticulous and gracious at every minute," has known the new director designate since 2002, when Shilvock became an OPERA America fellow.

"I'm not the first person to say this, but every financial decision has an artistic implication and every artistic decision has a financial implication," Scorca says. "Matthew now holds the reins of doing something so hard to do, which is to make great art, keep the finances of the company strong and the audience curious and excited."

Bay Area opera fans shouldn't expect drastic changes as Shilvock takes over the directorship.

"We live and breathe on our relationship with our community," Shilvock says. "That's going to be as important now as it ever has been. I think taking advantage of the great energy and change that is happening in San Francisco at the moment is going to be essential as we look to the future."

As part of his strategy, Shilvock says the company may form closer partnerships with performers, composers, directors and opera companies in Pacific Rim countries, particularly in China. He's also eager to develop the programming at the company's new 300-seat Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, opening next year at the Veterans Building. Between now and his appointment as director next August, Shilvock says he will be diving into programming the 2018/19 season.

Despite the fact that Shilvock is a protégé of Gockley's, Scorca says not to expect Shilvock to be a carbon copy of the outgoing director. "But Matthew had great responsibility for realizing many of the productions at San Francisco and Houston Grand Opera," Scorca says. "We know the sensibilities that have shaped him over the last 13 years. I think he's going to be looking for vocal excellence, a wide mix of works from the classical repertoire and new material. So the values that San Francisco holds dear I think will be promoted by Matthew."

Born and educated in England in 1976, Shilvock studied music at Oxford University and holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Shilvock lives in Marin County with his wife Kate and their two children.

The appointment of Shilvock comes at the end of a 10-month-long, international search. His five year contract as general director will last through July 2021.