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Video Published: 21 Dec 2022

An Oral History with David Gately

On March 15th, 2022, stage director David Gately sat down with OPERA America's President/CEO Marc A. Scorca for a conversation about opera and his life.

This interview was originally recorded on March 15th, 2022. 
The Oral History Project is supported by the Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation. 

David Gately, stage director

Stage director David Gately is known for his vivid storytelling and lively and clever productions. Career milestones include his staging of L’elisir d’amore with The Dallas Opera and The Atlanta Opera, Madama Butterfly with Seattle Opera, La bohème with Florida Grand Opera, Carmen in New Orleans, Les contes d’Hoffmann in Edmonton and Tulsa, Die Zauberflöte with the Cincinnati and Vancouver Operas, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with both the Florentine Opera and The Glimmerglass Festival, Falstaff with Opera Omaha, and Rigoletto with Utah Opera and Arizona Opera. Gately’s highly successful “Wild West” production of Don Pasquale has been mounted by numerous companies, including San Diego Opera, Kentucky Opera, Opera Colorado, Calgary Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Virginia Opera, Dayton Opera, and Canadian Opera Company.

Oral History Project

Discover the full collection of oral histories at the link below.


Marc A. Scorca: Who brought you to your first opera?

David Gately: I'm fairly certain that I went with my high school music group to see an opera. I was raised in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon (and) went to Clackamas High School. And I think there were probably about 10 of us that went down to the Civic Auditorium, and saw the Portland Opera production (of) - and this, if you know my career at all, is very funny because I think that production was - The Barber of Seville, which I went on to direct maybe 30 to 35 productions of that.

Marc A. Scorca: And did that first experience really capture your imagination so that you thought, "This opera thing is really good stuff?"

David Gately: Well, it's funny, 'cause I was always a theater person and, especially in high school, I was very, very involved in the theater and for me it felt just like an extension of that. I loved musicals, and so it didn't seem much different than that, except that people were singing all the time. Maybe it was a particularly good production; I don't remember much about it, but it felt like an extension of everything I wanted to do. I don't think I specifically chose opera until after college, and even then I say, "Opera chose me. I didn't really choose opera," because I was thinking more that I would have a theater kind of career somehow. And then opera just started being in my life.

Marc A. Scorca: Let's talk a little bit about that high school experience, because you said that you were involved in plays and musicals, so that stage life, backstage, the opening night, the applause: that was part of your adolescence. You really were drawn to theater. What drew you?

David Gately: I'm not exactly sure. I loved being on stage. It was something that I knew instinctively and immediately. I didn't have any training. I was a pianist, so I had musical training, but nobody in my family was oriented towards any kind of theater or drama. And I just loved it. And interestingly enough, even in my high school, not thinking that I would ever be a director, my high school director chose two of us to direct a production of The Mousetrap while I was still in high school. So I was even getting experience in all aspects of stuff, even back then. I guess I was a show-off. I'm much less a show-off now. The thought of going on stage absolutely freaks me out. I don't wanna do it at all, but in those days, maybe I was more of a show-off, and I really loved to do it.

Marc A. Scorca: Well, we'll talk later about whether being a stage director actually is a kind of performance. Oberlin. Why Oberlin?

David Gately: Well, it's really funny, because I was a pianist and I auditioned to get into the Conservatory of Music as a pianist, and I was not accepted. I didn't do a live audition; I did it by reel to reel tape in those days. But I also had applied for the college and Carl Bewig, who later became a friend and was director of admissions, said that we saw both of your applications, and as soon as we realized you weren't gonna work out in the Conservatory, we activated your other application, because we really wanted you here. And so I actually started at Oberlin in the college, in the second semester of that year. And I immediately knew I wanted to be a theater major, which was one of the things I did. I ended up being a double major because it was the radical '70's, and we didn't have any distributional requirements. We could take whatever we wanted for all four years, just so long as you had certain amount of hours in your major. So I finished my theater credits practically at the end of my sophomore year and I had to do something else. So I did what's called government, but basically political science for the rest of my time there.

Marc A. Scorca: So then, what brought you into stage direction? How did you decide that: A) it was stage direction and B) it would be opera stage direction?

David Gately: Well, it's like a Cinderella story actually. It's hard to recreate my experience. So I was a junior at Oberlin, and my roommate at the time, who was a costume designer, ran the Oberlin Gilbert and Sullivan Society. And we did this thing called Winter Term Projects during the month of January, where there wasn't regular school. And in January, he said, "We're gonna do a production of Mikado, and you're gonna direct it." I didn't even get a say in the matter. And so I said, "Okay," and I'd watched some people direct and stuff, and I kind of knew what I wanted to do. So I did that. And then a very interesting gentleman by the name of Jack Edelman, who had a career working at places like City Opera and all over, and he was a performer and a director, was actually in the neighborhood and he knew Carl Bewig and knew all these people, because he had directed at Oberlin Summer Music Theater.

So he saw the production; he came backstage afterwards and he said, "This was fabulous. Would you go be my assistant this summer at the Lake George Opera Festival?" And that was my junior year in college. And really the rest is history. Suddenly, it was opera jobs that were coming my way. Right after school, a position opened up with the Houston Grand Opera/Texas Opera Theater, the touring branch of that. They needed a stage manager/stage director type. Jack actually put my name in for that. I was hired to do that. And I was on the staff of the Houston Grand Opera for four years, and that's where I learned repertoire. I learned how to work with singers. I learned so much in those four years. And after that, there was just no question. I was just going to be in opera.

Marc A. Scorca: From a college inter-term project, to an assistant into opera, it's just (one of) those remarkable alignments that occur from time to time.

David Gately: It's true. And so any advice I can give is just (to) keep your paths open, be open to what life is going to give you, because you don't know where it's gonna lead. And if I (had) said, "Opera, I don't know if I'm right for opera," I might not be here today.

Marc A. Scorca: When I look over your directing credits, your repertoire is so vast: from inherited European repertoire to new works; to traditional new works and very experimental new works. As a director, do you approach different parts of the repertoire differently? American versus European? New versus old?

David Gately: There's a yes and no part to that. The no part is no, I really don't approach them differently because I'm very text-oriented. So I will study what's in the libretto; what's actually there; what information can I get from the words and the music that inform me about what's going on and who the characters are. So generally that's my baseline approach, but yes, I approach them very differently because inherited works from the 18th/19th centuries, very little, if any effort was put into the libretti. Sometimes just a sketch of what goes on. And in order to make the storytelling clear, it takes so much invention on the part of the director to just keep the story going and keep the story clear. And it's not about business or schtick or anything like that. It's about how these characters are moving the story forward.

Now, when you get into later works, even by the time we've hit Strauss and we've hit Britten and we've hit all of those people going into our modern day, the libretti play more like plays. There's a lot more information, like if you direct Rosenkavalier, there's more words in that piece than any play you're going to do, practically. And they're amazing words. They're amazing text, so you don't have to work as hard. The hardest piece I ever put together was my very first Handel opera, which was Giulio Cesare for the Fort Worth Opera, and I worked for months trying to figure out how to make those arias move the story forward, tell the story and not be static because Handel opera can be very, very, very static. And I think we were successful in creating scenarios and I had an amazingly inventive cast that would get ideas from me and then branch out and do their own thing within that framework; it was an incredibly creative experience, but really the most difficult thing I've ever put together.

Marc A. Scorca: How interesting. You're right. If you think of some of the works in the bel canto period, and there's so little in the libretti, because the characters really are defined in the music. So you do have to kind of invent a scenario to make it all hang together as a theatrical piece.

David Gately: That's true. And you brought up a point as well. A lot of the information about the characters and the storytelling is in the music, which is oftentime a problem for many of my colleagues who come from the theater world, and don't know how to use that tool to help tell the story. They understand it's there. They don't really know how to treat the music. They don't actually know that every time they sing staccati, it's gonna make the character do something like this, or big, long legato lines mean this, or it's loud or it's soft. All of these things actually inform the action that's going on at that time. And so you have to delve into that as well, to help with your storytelling, when you aren't given many words.

Marc A. Scorca: When it comes to new works, as opposed to old works, I mean, with Handel or any of the bel canto, you've got recordings; there are documented stage performances of it and a kind of performance history of it, compared to a new work, which is a blank slate. Is that a very different, liberating, scary experience?

David Gately: It's thrilling, actually. I can remember an experience on a piece called Voir Dire, which was composed by Matthew Peterson, and the librettist, Jason Zencka. So we did the whole piece. It had been done in workshops before, but never as a whole. And the first time that a composer and a librettist come to see the work, it's a little scary for me, because I want to have served their piece. And there was a very long extended orchestral section that I needed to do something in; I needed to move the story forward and (I) created something with Anna Lorenzo that was heartbreaking. And when the librettist saw it, he said, "I sat there watching it, going 'now I know this is my opera and this is my libretto, but I didn't write that, and I'm being very, very moved by it," which makes me feel like I got into their heads, got what they were doing and was able to extend what they were doing with another layer that I could add onto what they were doing. Not go against them, not try to do my own thing. That's the thing: when I'm doing a new piece: my major thing is to make sure that what the composer intended is being put up on the stage. Then if they hate it, great, they can rewrite it and they can do something different. But if they don't see what they wrote, then they don't have anything to go on.

Marc A. Scorca: I hadn't thought about that. I was thinking that we get to really invent these characters. We really get to invent what this piece will look like, but I hadn't thought of the pressure of sitting with the composer and librettist to try to determine whether you gave them their piece in some fashion.

David Gately: Yeah. When I did Lysistrata here at Fort Worth, Mark Adamo was there and opening night, he came up to me and he said, "You directed this as if you had written it yourself." And it was one of the greatest compliments I ever got in my entire life, because he's very detailed in his writing and I always strive to get incredibly specific with all the details that are there and it was his feeling that I got them all. So that was heartwarming, and one of the best compliments (I) ever got.

Marc A. Scorca: So our inherited repertoire - and I've become so much more sensitive to this, myself: even going to see The Met new Rigoletto production and to see the way Gilda is treated (groan) or I know I'll be going to see the new Lucia di Lammermoor, and it'll be another, "Oh no". So many of the works that we have loved are really problematic, especially in the treatment of women. So these days, how do you approach the inherited repertoire. Do you avoid the pieces that you find challenging in that way? Do you try to tell them in a way that illuminates the work from a different perspective or investigates the trauma in a way that's helpful to a modern audience? What do you do?

David Gately: That's a really good question, because it doesn't even begin to approach things like what do you do with The Mikado and what do you do with Madam Butterfly and what do you do with Otello and what do you do with pieces that have racial aspects in them as well. But when you're dealing with the treatment of women, that's a really an amazing issue. I just try to take an incredibly modern sensibility to it. So if these events are happening, who does that put into a different light? Are these people that we maybe admired before not so admirable because of the way they treat people or is there a way to make the women stronger characters so that they're not just acted upon, but they're in fact actors in their own fate. My Cosi fan tutte, I do a really feminist ending, where the women who have been screwed all night long, basically walk off the stage without either one of the men, so I try to take a very modern sensibility to what we are seeing.

Now, interestingly enough, I haven't had the opportunity to do any of those pieces, which are now coming so much into question like The Mikado and Butterfly, so I don't know exactly what I'll do or how I'll react if those actually even come my way. I just did a Bohème for Seattle and one of my wonderful, remarkable students (he's Korean, a tenor) watched a video of it and he came to me and he says, "You look at it, it looks like what you do is very traditional because everybody's dressed in the period and the style, but what we see on the stage is not traditional at all." And he's absolutely right. I mean, the characters are not what I think I've seen in past productions of Bohème. I think they're very, very modern characters and Bohème's been one of those pieces we always think has been modern: people update it, people move it, people do all kinds of stuff to it, and they always try to keep it new and modern. They turn it into a musical called Rent. Yet I still think there's a way to take a very today point of view about the piece, bringing in the experience of the people who are performing it, but I've had women say, "You know, this doesn't feel right to me." And I said, "Well, let's find another way to do something." I'm totally open to that. I think it makes it exciting. It keeps the art form alive and vibrant. So yes, the shorter answer to your question is: those cringeworthy moments, I think that you try to look at them with a modern point of view and look at the woman suffering and what she might have gone through, and what maybe drove her to the situation that she finds herself in. I think that's the way I approach those pieces.

Marc A. Scorca: I'm glad you mentioned the Bohème in Seattle, because, of course, it was created during COVID and it was created for digital distribution, aside from all of the safety protocols that had singers loving one another from afar. Was it your first real foray into creating something digitally?

David Gately: Well, actually it wasn't the Bohème. The Bohème was actually their first public performance back in McCaw Hall, still under lots of rules. This was one of the first times when the audience had to show their vaccination cards before they came in, and Christina did this wonderful thing, not knowing she was doing it, but she gave a curtain speech. And she said, "Tonight, we're here because of science," and the audience erupted. (They're pretty leftwing progressive in Seattle). And everybody just screamed their heads off: yes, we were there because science somehow showed us a way to do that.

The piece that I did digitally was Elixir of Love, and it was an astounding experience. We were under such strict protocols. We were in a giant rehearsal room and everybody had their socially distanced space away from everybody else. So you'd go up on the stage. You'd do your thing, socially distanced from everybody with your masks on, and then you'd go back to your space and there would be no physical interaction anywhere. We had to be tested every three days too, to make sure that we all remain negative. When we got to the stage, the singers were allowed to - just before they went onto the stage - take their masks off, and then perform, and then go off the stage and put them on again. Nobody touched each other. Because we did it as a film, we could do tricks. They could never hand a prop off, because we thought you could pass it on surfaces. So they put a prop down on the table; we'd cut the scene. They would replace that prop with a new sanitized prop, and then they would go back on and the singer would then pick up that prop as if they had just picked it up.

Marc A. Scorca: Wow, that's crazy.

David Gately: And, we just did all sorts of things like that with the piece. And it was challenging, inventive, exciting, so wonderful to be doing something again, after a year of doing nothing. I've had productions of mine videoed before (for PBS or for whatever), but I was never very involved in that process. In this process, I was incredibly involved with the TV director, Kyle Seeger. So I did it, and then he figured out how to do it. And then we would work together to redo takes, and I got much more involved in how you put a video together, which then came in handy for when I got back to my school, and I had to create operas with my students, and I made five movies of one-act operas just on my little experience from having done it at Seattle Opera.

Marc A. Scorca: Were you happy with the outcome of what you saw on screen?

David Gately: I was astounded at how good it was. It had all the charm, and the singers sang live. They weren't prerecorded. So it had spontaneity. I don't think anyone who watched it felt like they were having something taken away because of COVID. I think that they felt like they were seeing a new kind of cool thing because of COVID. So I loved every minute of it. I've watched it since then on a number of occasions when I wanna be cheered up.

Marc A. Scorca: I don't want to suggest that that kind of digital work replaces the live audience experience, because we certainly know and breathe the magic of that. But do you feel that digital is to be a part of our future?

David Gately: I do. We can't just forget everything that we've learned in the last two years. I'm not sure exactly how it fits in, but The Met with their high definition broadcast certainly found out that there was a whole new audience out there to watch their operas. And in a funny way, we could reach new audiences too. Maybe instead of sending those poor young artists out to do their 65th production of Three Little Pigs at some grade school, you create video experiences for the kids and send a couple of singers with them. And then video becomes part of the experience and doesn't wear out the young singers. I have used video a bunch in a couple of my productions. Before Night Falls comes to mind. And Peter Nigrini, who did those visuals for me, he's now practically a standard on Broadway. They use his visuals all the time in everything. I think it's become a very important part of a live performance as well. And it's not as much a mystery to me anymore. Now I kind of get it, and I know what has to be planned and what has to be involved and how easy or difficult it can be. And so I think that it will be a part of what we do. I really do think so.

Marc A. Scorca: And a part of your training of young artists to make sure that they understand that sometimes you'll be working with a camera, and this is what it's like.

David Gately: Totally. Over the past two years, the shock of having to audition totally on camera for those folks. And then we'd watch their videos and I'd point out to them what was going on and what they needed to temper down and what they needed to exaggerate. Practically from the very first day, we were already doing little individual videos and then bigger videos and then bigger videos. So it's become a huge part of their training. And of course, because they're young people, it's much easier for them than it is for me. I just go, "I need you to kind of do this and this and this." And they come in with an edited thing that's just like amazing. "Okay, that worked."

Marc A. Scorca: That's just fabulous. Now, you've worked with companies large and small. Some of the most important companies in the country to some of the smallest companies in the country: any difference in the way you approach the work?

David Gately: Well, I love those small companies. They got me my start. And so many of them went under in the 2008/09 economic crisis, and they haven't come back. And that is a real problem for young directors because they don't have those places to go out and just learn what they do. But there is a difference. My motto used to be: 'the less money you're paid, the more work you'll have to do'. And that was just a general rule, because you go to those smaller companies and you suddenly find yourself having to wear lots of hats. Hats that you're not necessarily trained for. Like, I wasn't trained a costume/set designer, any of that stuff; even designing the props. In a big place, the designer designs the props, and yet suddenly you find yourself wearing all those hats that you're not really trained for.

When you go to a bigger company, the pressure's more, but you have the greatest people in every single department and you only have to go, "I want that," and then suddenly it's there. And they pay you very well for that. So yes, there's a huge difference, but the experience you get and some of those tiny little companies I had experiences with...Cecelia Schieve ran a little teeny company in Lynchburg, Virginia. She said, "I know I'm crazy for asking you this, but would you come in and direct our Little Women," because it was kind of one of my pieces. And I said, "Absolutely, I have time free. And I think it'll be great." And it was in this teensy little space, and working with the singers on that level of reality, because they couldn't make a false move; they couldn't make a false face. They had to absolutely be totally real and honest every second that they were on stage: no spreading arms and singing high notes. None of that was gonna pass in this tiny little space. It was a thrilling experience. It was almost like watching a movie, it was so well done by them.

Marc A. Scorca: Now, John Conklin has said to me that whether the company is big or small, you usually only have enough time to direct the synopsis, and I've always chuckled at that because that's the basic of, 'she goes here, he goes, there, they hug', as opposed to finding character. Do you always find that you're up against time constraints in doing what you wanna do?

David Gately: One of the things that people know about me is that I'm really fast and efficient and I don't waste anybody's time. So for me, I can get a whole lot done, and I do a lot of homework before I ever go to a rehearsal. So I set out a pretty clear roadmap of where we're gonna go, so that I know we're gonna get from the beginning of the opera, to the end of the opera and tell the story that I want to tell. So scene by scene, I go through and I lay out a pretty specific roadmap. Then we just run it. And then we just add stuff and the singers add their layers on top of it. And so I can get a lot done. The circumstances have been rare when I didn't feel like I had enough time to do what I wanted to do. In the United States, it's mostly a three week rehearsal period, and that's plenty of time, especially if people come having done their roles, knowing a lot about who they are and who their experience is.

You go to Canada and Europe, and it's four weeks and sometimes five weeks of rehearsal period, and that's plenty of time to get done what you need to do. Now addressing what John might have been talking about, (there's) not so much time for experimentation so that you can't like do a whole thing and then throw that all away, start from scratch and do it all over again. Not so much time for that, but plenty of time to do exploration and character work and telling the story. So I kind of agree and disagree with what he said. Yes, we're always under time constraints, and the funny thing is: you use up as much time as you've got. If you have five weeks, you use every second of the five weeks. If you have two weeks, you manage to figure out how to do it in two weeks. And you just get as much information to these people as you possibly can, so that they can do their jobs. They're the ones who are up on stage performing

Marc A. Scorca: After all of your experiences though, a lot of them align with Seattle Opera, probably more productions there than any other company; Fort Worth, a lot of productions. What's the unique opportunity if you are working repeatedly at the same company?

David Gately: You can work in shorthand, 'cause everybody knows your work and everybody knows what you do well and when you may need a little more prompting, and they help you through it, and if they bring you back a lot, they probably like you, and it's like a whole friend atmosphere, so you feel like you're working with colleagues and not working against yourself. I have a few: Vancouver Opera was always a huge, wonderful experience for me and Fort Worth Opera and even like Academy of Vocal Arts, I've done 16 productions for them. And so it's like you know the space; you know the personnel and you can prepare yourself for what kind of experience it's gonna be. It's wonderful to be invited back; you feel like you're part of the team. I appreciate those places very, very much.

Marc A. Scorca: Other than being invited back regularly, what makes a good general director?

David Gately: I want a general director to be engaged with what's happening, and I want a general director to also feel free to take me aside and say that this is working and that's not working. I do want a general director to be critiquing what they're seeing and the experience that's going on, and not what's in their mind about what they may have seen in a production of this a billion times. So I love and engage (with) a general director who appreciates the process that's going on, and can contribute to it and not squelch it a little bit. I've been pretty lucky. I've had some really great experiences with many, many, many general directors, and I don't want them to just say that they're gonna hire 'em, and just let people go, because that often doesn't work out well either. I want them to say that they're gonna hire you and give you a great deal of freedom to do your vision. But also we, as an artist, have to understand that there are purse strings involved; sometimes your vision is too expensive for them. And I want that input. I wanna be told parameters; it helps me focus my work a little bit. So I love a general director that will help me focus my work that's coming outta my head, and not necessarily critique my work based on something that they have in their heads.

Marc A. Scorca: Interesting. So here you are professor... What's the bottom line in what you try to impart to your students?

David Gately: I think if you ask my students what they learn from me, they'd all pretty much narrow it down to: I try very hard to make them real on stage. I try very hard to extract any sort of excess that isn't helping them create the character and tell the story. That can come in gesture, in thought, in all sorts of things, but to really hone their physicality down, to just telling the story. I also try to teach and instill in them the use of text and music and helping them create a character. So those are kind of the two big things that I think I teach. I feel like if you can make a person look real and honest and natural on stage, then they can work in any style. They can work in any period. They can do contemporary opera; they can go back and do Mozart. They can do any wide variety of things, 'cause if we, as an audience, are seeing a real person on stage, and not some little cartoon or robot, we're engaged, and that's what I'm trying to teach them how to do, is how to engage an audience through their truth.

Marc A. Scorca: And to aspiring stage directors?

David Gately: I don't know what you do nowadays, 'cause so many of those companies are gone, where I would go and get my start. There's still a few around, and some people create their own opportunities. But in my day, there were two routes. You could do my route, which was to work on all the little companies and work your way up and work your way up, and eventually, hopefully you would be working for the big companies and doing, new productions and that sort of thing. The other route was, you go to The Met or San Francisco or Chicago or in the old days City Opera and you become an assistant director and you're on their staff and you work your way up that way, either as an assistant - now some of those people stayed assistants the rest of their lives, but some of them then would occasionally take a production out that had been originally done at Chicago Lyric and then Houston wanted to do it, and the original director wasn't available. So that assistant would do that. And so they actually started at a much higher level as far as size of company than I did, and it took me a lot longer to get there. I think that that path is still available. I think that those big major companies do hire assistant directors as part of their staff and the smaller companies: there are a few, but that's the way I'd say how you get your start.

Marc A. Scorca: Two different ways. You do a lot of new work with your students (American work and new work), and when one thinks of a conservatory or a university opera program, we sometimes think that they are conserving 19th century repertoire, but you bring a lot of new work into your classroom.

David Gately: I do. There's a couple reasons for that. First of all, this is a university. TCU (Texas Christian University) is a university that prides itself on commissioning works in every field. So when I've gone to the head of the school of music and the Dean, and said I wanna be co-commissioners on this new work, there was always a receptive ear. Didn't always work out, but there was always a receptive ear. Also, my program here is a little boutique program, so I don't have a huge range of people that I can cast. As a matter of fact, I have to wait until August, when everybody comes back, to see who's actually in my opera studio and what works I can do, and because I'm a kind of a one man band here, I try to do works that have lots of people in them, and I find that some of the contemporary works like Evan Mack's Yeltsin in Texas had tons of characters in it. And it was just perfectly suited to my needs here at TCU and took place in Texas; was fun; it was a comedy opera - how unusual, because most new operas aren't funny, and the Dean was just thrilled to be a part of it.

Once again, I'm training the kids how to be performers on stage and whatever tools we use, whatever pieces we do, I think they can still learn that. And I try to do lots of different styles within that. Like for instance, we did Nino Rota's Italian Straw Hat in January, which was just like a nightmare with COVID and everything going on, but we did get it on the stage and it was performed and that is a whole different style. That's much more kind of Pucciniesque and an Italian style, and everything is almost like dialogue. So I try to give them a variety of styles, but I'm kind of led by trying to do pieces that have a lot of people in them, and we don't get to do very many of them.

Marc A. Scorca: After all of this work, are there one or two operas you haven't directed that you wish you would?

David Gately: In the standard rep, not really. I've done all of them. There's a couple that I'd love to do again, like I only got to do Rosenkavalier once; it's a life changing experience. There's a couple of the biggies that I'd love to do that I haven't assailed like Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, - although I always thought I wanted to do Billy Budd, and then I saw Francesca Zambello's production in Seattle, and for me it was perfect. And I thought, "I don't think I can do anything different with this. It's so amazing." So I kind of took Billy Budd off my list. And for me the challenges of doing new works are always more exciting than going back and trying something from the olden days.

Marc A. Scorca: Have there been role models in your life, whether you've known them or not: people whose careers you've thought, "That's the kind of career I want." People whose footsteps you walk in, in some fashion?

David Gately: I was actually talking to someone else about this very subject a couple of weeks ago. If there was one person whose career (going back to maybe my college days) that I envisioned myself having, it would be Jack O'Brien. Now Jack O'Brien dabbled in opera, and that's where I got to meet him, and I assisted him a few times, and then he went on and he ran The Old Globe in San Diego and he's done Broadway shows and he's won Tony awards and he does repertoire that extends from serious plays to musicals, to all kinds of stuff. If I had to choose my career, that's the career I would've chosen, but in the opera world, there are two very disparate directors who influenced me. I assisted both of them and they're very, very different in approach and style, and one of them was Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, the famous French director who did quite a bit of work over here. I worked with him a couple of times at Houston Grand Opera, and then in Europe I worked with him a couple of times. Astounding to be around that much power 'cause no one ever said no to him. "I want this." "Okay." Off they would go and raise the money and they'd do it, and just the way he worked with singers and the style was very influential.

And the other one was our dear wonderful friend, Frank Corsaro, who was like bananas at the other end. With him, it was all about freedom and exploration and I assisted Frank a lot when I was down in Houston as well. So these two people hugely influenced me. And interestingly enough, I had done Traviata with Ponnelle, and I had read Frank's book Maverick, where he deals a great deal about Traviata. And I was faced with doing my first Traviata and I knew that I was gonna be influenced by both of them. And so what came out was David Gately's Traviata, influenced by both of them. And I bet if either Frank or Jean-Pierre saw it, neither one of them would recognize what they had influenced me to do. But they were huge influences in the choices I made when I first directed that piece.

Marc A. Scorca: What a great pair, and in a way, the career you've described of Jack O'Brien, in a way describes your own career of what you've done: light, tragic, new, old. Maybe you've achieved it.

David Gately: I didn't get those Tony awards though.

Marc A. Scorca: You're still young. You're still young.

David Gately: I'm still young. No, that's absolutely true. Early on, I was known as the comedy director and it had to do with that production of Barber of Seville that I did at the Lake George Opera Festival, and 35 times since then. And so, my manager at the time and myself, we actually set out with a goal to say, "Fine, David will come and do your Barber of Seville, but he needs to do that Bohème in the next season.” So that I started to branch out and be able to do the serious ones as well. So that people began to think of me as more than just the funny guy.

Marc A. Scorca: David, clearly you're the thoughtful guy and I really appreciate your taking the time today to have these memories; to tell us a little bit about your early career and what motivates you. It'll be a lesson for all and it's just such a pleasure to see you by zoom.