Photo by Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

A Conversation With San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock

Many of our readers will be taking the ferry to AT&T Park for the SFO simulcast of the June 30 performance. How will that night this summer be different?

Photo by Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

Cultural Currents: Many of our readers will be taking the ferry to AT&T Park for the SFO simulcast of the June 30 performance. How will that night this summer be different?

Matthew Shilvock: While we can’t promise what the weather will be like, we have had a number of thrilling, beautiful and warm simulcasts at AT&T Park around the Independence Day weekend. This year we are transmitting Mozart’s timeless masterpiece Don Giovanni to the 107-foot HD screen at the ballpark, allowing anticipated audiences of 27,000-30,000 to revel in an evening of spectacular music, a visually arresting production and a great community event. Our insatiable Don is one of the great singers in the world—the dashing Italian Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. This is a perfect chance to experience both ballpark and opera in exciting, new ways.

CC: Can you suggest a few ways ferry riders may prepare for the upcoming summer season?

Shilvock: Opera is such an immediate artform that you can enjoy it without any preparation. And all of our presentations feature English translations projected above the stage. But for a quick overview, check out my introduction available at and click on “Hear the Music.” My introduction is right there and will explain a little about what’s to come.

CC: Love is invoked as the unifying theme in this summer’s season, but loss is also addressed. Can you reflect on that?

Shilvock: Opera’s power is that it holds up a mirror to the intensity of the human condition and all of its deep emotions. Opera conveys emotions as soaring expressions on stage, so large and archetypal that we can all see ourselves reflected back. Love and loss are two of the most powerful emotions of opera, just as they are the most powerful emotions of life. When you watch a great opera like Don Giovanni, you come away knowing a little better the human condition. It’s powerful stuff.

CC: The ferry is a stately, elegiac mode of transportation. How does this compare to the experience of grand opera?

Shilvock: In an age of technological individualism, it is refreshing to find places and activities that bring us together as a community. The opera house and the ferry are both places where people come together in shared experience, eschewing solitary options in favor of the communal approach. Both are also places for reflection, places where you give yourself over to the rhythm and pacing of something much more primal than the harried sprint of life. Whether the rhythms of water or a Wagner opera, you have the chance to step back and take stock. That’s a luxury these days and one worth embracing!

CC: Finally, can you share any of your own thoughts about living near the Bay?

Shilvock: The Bay is a place of extraordinary opportunity and possibility. I love the story of Sir Francis Drake not being able to find the Golden Gate because the fog was so dense! It’s a place of unique mystery and intrigue, as in some of the great San Francisco films like The Maltese Falcon and Vertigo. It’s a place that loves to share stories; it’s a place that loves to dress up; it’s a place that loves to explore the rich possibilities of life; it’s a place where you can be whoever you want to be. Opera is second nature for the Bay and that speaks to its extraordinary history here, going back to the Gold Rush days. I am so excited for our new opera, Girls of the Golden West, in November, in which we’ll explore the swirl of hope, possibility and challenge of the Gold Rush. This is an area of iconic intensity, something we thrive on in opera.