In the heart of Bush country, he ushered in Adams's Nixon in China, a momentous premiere in the history of American opera. A few years later, his controversial commission of Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie's Harvey Milk was picketed by the religious right.
So what does he have in store for those who actually like more daring theatrical statements?
"Nothing this year," he said dryly. "But we have already announced a world premiere by Philip Glass [an opera based on the Civil War battle of Appomattox] for next season and will announce the new season in January. Much as I did in Houston, we will have a blend of some core and peripheral repertory work, new works, and premieres — done with great singers and great musical and theatrical values."
In all fairness, Gockley has the difficult job of being all things to all people during this transitional phase. Of course, this is only the beginning, and before he has the buy-in from all the locals, this former Texan will still have much to prove. SFBG
CHING CHANG'S TOP CLASSICAL AND OPERA PICKS
HENRY PURCELL'S KING ARTHUR
Philharmonia Baroque and Cal Performances join forces to present Purcell's 1691 dramatic masterpiece in a new, fully choreographed staging by Mark Morris. The original cast from the production's UK premiere is featured. (Sept. 30–Oct. 7. 510-642-9988, www.calperfs.berkeley.edu)
HILARY HAHN AND THE SF SYMPHONY
More than any so-called diva, violinist Hilary Hahn provides compelling evidence of the divine with her mesmerizing gifts. Appearing with the SF Symphony, Hahn is the soloist in the rarely heard Violin Concerto by Eric Wolfgang Korngold, a composer of forbidden music during the Nazi era. (Dec. 6–8. 415-864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org)
RICHARD WAGNER'S TRISTAN UND ISOLDE
Soprano Christine Brewer's rendition of Isolde's orgasmic, transcendent "Liebestod" at the end of this five-hour opera will be well worth the wait, while iconoclast David Hockney's colorful sets will be mere icing on the cake. Thomas Moser sings Tristan, and Donald Runnicles conducts. (Oct. 5–27. 415-864-3330, www.sfopera.com)
In the rarest of opportunities, the brilliant British composer and pianist Thomas Ades pays a visit to San Francisco to play a recital of his music at Herbst Theatre. Ades created a sensation when, as a fresh-faced 23-year-old composer, he premiered his opera Powder Her Face (containing the now-infamous fellatio scene) in Britain in 1995. (Dec. 9. 415-392-2545, www.performances.org)