Obituary: Artistic Director & Mezzo-Soprano Willene Gunn Dies Following Heart Surgery

By Logan Martell

Brava! Opera has announced the passing of Artistic Director and mezzo-soprano Willene Gunn on August 10, 2022, due to complications following surgery.

For 30 years, Gunn served on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as Director of the Conservatory Opera Program. She was granted an honorary doctorate in music from the Conservatory upon her retirement in 2005. She has directed over 100 major works by composers such as Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Bernstein, and more throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, working with companies including Nevada Opera, Sacramento Opera, Arizona Opera, Rogue Opera, and the San Francisco Opera Center, among others.

As a performer, Gunn graduated from the San Francisco Opera Merola Program, going on to perform role in works including “Aida,” “Falstaff,” “Peter Grimes,” “The Medium,” “The Consul,” and many others with companies in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Oakland, and Nevada. Her repertoire included operetta, musicals, and plays. In 2008 she published her textbook “Teaching Opera, The Role of the Opera Workshop… With Scene Catalogue,” written in partnership with Kathryn Cathcart.

In 2008, Gunn co-founded Brava! Opera where she produced and directed numerous productions, workshops, scenes concerts, and national vocal competitions.

“We are heartbroken and devastated to have lost Willene,” said General Director Lorrie Hall. “Those of us lucky enough to have known her or worked with her will remember her as a once-in-a-generation musician, director and educator of the highest caliber. Her opera productions were clever, creative, inspired and above all a delight to audience members. She was a singers’ director and beloved by countless former students, colleagues, singers and technical staff. She was a treasure to work with and had a wonderful sense of humor and infectious laugh that drew everyone in who met her.”

Gunn is survived by her husband Tom, and their daughter Vicki.