The Santa Fe Opera, a beloved tradition in The City Different, has a much farther reach. People come from across the globe each season to enjoy world-class opera in this state-of-the-art theater with its spectacular mountain and sunset views. The 2011 season runs from July 1st through Saturday August 27th. They five operas being presented are: Faust, La Boheme, Griselda, The Late Savage and Wozzeck.
The Santa Fe Opera opened for business in the summer of 1957. Conductor John Crosby, the force behind this group, had a mission. He wanted to provide American opera singers with a venue at a time when European singers were the norm in the world’s opera houses. He succeeded. The opera has been a force on the international opera scene ever since. In addition to performing the classics, the Santa Fe Opera is known for presenting new, innovative works. They have staged over forty American and four international premieres and have commissioned nine new operas. Many now well-known opera singers got their start as apprentices here including Sam Ramey, Neil Rosenshein, Neil Shicoff, and Joyce Di Donato. The roster of well-known singers that performed here early in their careers includes Susan Graham, Elizabeth Futral, Dawn Upshaw, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Frederica von Stade.
The mesa top site for the original theater was chosen for its great acoustics. Crosby and his friend, acoustician Jack Purcell, walked around firing rifle shots until the perfect spot was found. The original open-air theater accommodated 480 people. The stage was covered, but the orchestra pit and theater were open to the elements. Santa Fe has a summer monsoon season; when it rained people got wet. In a hard rain, the performance was stopped to protect the musical instruments. When the storm passed, the opera resumed. A balcony was added in 1965 to provide additional seating for the growing audience.
In the summer of 1967 a fire in the middle of the night consumed the theater. Everything was destroyed. All the sets, costumes and orchestra instruments were gone. It takes a lot to get the Santa Fe Opera down. Opera companies from around the country came to their rescue with donations of sets and costumes. After missing only one performance, the show went on. They moved to the Sweeney High School Auditorium (today the site of the Santa Fe Community Convention Center). A new theater was ready for the start of the 1968 season. It sat over 1,800 people. It had a roof, but the sides were open to the evening storms so common here.
The current opera house, with its breathtaking sunset and mountain views and superb acoustics, was built in 1998. It’s almost totally enclosed; the sides in the front orchestra remain open. Usually, when a storm rages, the performers don’t miss a beat. Seating capacity is now 2,128 with an additional 106 standing room spaces. A small computer screen, set into a rail in front of your seat, supplies either English or Spanish translations (you pick) of the libretto, allowing you to follow the performance. If you don’t want to be distracted from the pageantry on stage the translator can be turned off.
If you wish to dine at the opera and enjoy the grounds or the pre-performance opera talk there are a few options. The Opera’s dinner buffet, at the Dapples Pavilion, is very popular. Reserve early as space is limited. You can also order picnic dinners from the Opera or bring your own and tailgate. People arrive a few hours early and set up their parking-lot feasts. You’ll see anything from simple sandwiches to elegant multi-course dinners accompanied by wine and candles and elegant table settings.
The Backstage Tour:
From June through August, the opera offers backstage tours Monday to Friday at 9am. It’s a wonderful way to get a behind the scenes peak at the infrastructure that keeps the magic on the stage going, night after night, season after season. You can view the scenery, prop, costume and wig shops; see how the sets are stored and the giant elevator (located behind the stage) that delivers them to the stage a few stories up. This warren of activity behind the scenes is hectic early in the season and becomes quieter as each production debuts. The tour ends in the magnificent opera house. There is a charge for the tour; it’s free for anyone age 17 and under.
Saturday mornings in June, July and August, Opera Insider Days are offered at 8:30am. This event, sponsored by the Opera Guild, is free of charge.. The morning begins with muffins and coffee on the Opera’s patio. A member of the Opera’s staff gives a short talk on his or her area of expertise. This is followed by a backstage tour.
Parking at the opera can be challenging. To avoid parking hassles and driving after drinking, consider taking a shuttle. Several companies, including the opera, provide service:
Opera shuttle service
Roadrunner Shuttle (505) 424-3367
Great Southwest Adventures will transport groups of six or more (505) 455 2700
What to wear:
Dress at the opera, especially on opening nights, runs the gamut from black-tie to jeans. Remember to bring something warm; after the glorious sunset it can get chilly. The acclaimed theater (you may have seen it in the last scene in the movie Crazy Heart) is covered, but the sides in the front orchestra seating area are open and Santa Fe summer evenings can be windy.
Schedule and ticketing information:
The Santa Fe Opera’s season runs from late June or early July to the end of August. Start times change during the season based on the time the sun sets. If you plan on attending a performance get your tickets early; the more popular operas can sell out quickly. Opera lovers come to Santa Fe from all over the country and even the world. A popular time to visit is during August when the season’s entire repertoire is offered consecutively during the same week. Check the Opera’s website for this year’s schedule. Planning ahead? Here’s some information on the 2012 season.
Whether you are an opera aficionado or a first-timer, a night at the Santa Fe Opera, will be one to remember.
Author’s note: We have been guests of the Santa Fe Opera. Their generous hospitality has not influenced this post in any way.