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Preview: Santa Fe Opera, Summer 2006

Santa Fe Opera, photo by Robert ReckIn 1957, John Crosby realized what must have seemed like a nutty idea, to build a major American cutting-edge opera company, not in New York but in the New Mexico desert. To this day, Santa Fe Opera remains the premiere summer opera destination in the United States: the oldest is Central City in Colorado, and the best newcomer is probably Opera Theater of St. Louis (founded by Richard Gaddes, one-time Artistic Administrator under John Crosby at Santa Fe, and now back in Santa Fe as General Director). It certainly does not hurt that Santa Fe is such a desirable place to visit, steeped in the multifaceted history of the southwestern United States, amid numerous sites treasured as holy by members of the Pueblo tribes. Even now, in spite of the kitschy shops and the casinos, the place feels close to the gods.

In my posts from Santa Fe last summer, I remarked on the Santa Fe programming formula: two operas from the mainstream repertory (Turandot, Barber of Seville), a new and interesting production of a lesser-known work by a famous composer (Lucio Silla), a 20th-century masterpiece (Peter Grimes), and a premiere (Ainadamar). It doesn't hold true for every season at Santa Fe, I think, but it does appear to match this year's exciting season. As I said before, my only complaint is that I wish they would have a slot for a Baroque opera and invite one of the leading Baroque ensembles (Les Arts Florissants, Les Talens Lyriques, and Le Concert Spirituel leap to mind) to come for the summer. I will almost get my wish in the 2007 season, with Rameau's Platée to be conducted by Harry Bicket.

Last Season at Santa Fe:

Ionarts at Santa Fe Opera (July 23, 2005)

Mozart, Lucio Silla (July 21, 2005)

Rossini, Barber of Seville (July 23, 2005)

Britten, Peter Grimes (July 24, 2005)

Golijov, Ainadamar (August 2, 2005)
First, Santa Fe is mounting a new production of Bizet's Carmen directed by Lars Rudolfsson, who has updated the Spanish setting to the Franco era. The casting is first-rate, with Anne Sofie von Otter in the title role, William Joyner as Don José, and apprentice Jennifer Black in my favorite role, Micaëla. At the time I will be hearing the opera, in August, Laurent Naouri -- who is another singer I am looking forward to hearing -- will replace David Pittsinger as Escamillo. As for the other chestnut, definitely high on my list of most anticipated Santa Fe experiences, it is the new production of Mozart's The Magic Flute directed by Tim Albery, mostly because Natalie Dessay will sing her first Pamina at Santa Fe. Heather Buck, who sang in Washington last as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, is the Queen of the Night.

You may recall that I enjoyed a regional production of Massenet's Cendrillon. It is one of the operas that Massenet composed after meeting American coloratura soprano Sibyl Sanderson, although unlike Esclarmonde and Thaïs the coloratura role in this opera (La Fée) was not created specifically for her. The fairy godmother has some of the most exciting music, a deliciously appropriate use for the coloratura voice -- think Tinkerbell. Sadly, we will not hear Santa Fe alumna Celena Shafer, who is taking a break from performing these days, as La Fée (she was a sensation in Lucio Silla last season at Santa Fe and in Esclarmonde here in Washington), but a promising young Cuban-American soprano named Eglise Gutierrez. Joyce DiDonato as Cinderella and a production by Laurent Pelly with dancers from Aspen Santa Fe Ballet are the headlines.

The news gets better, because Strauss is back at Santa Fe. Strauss's operas were a favorite of John Crosby's, and this summer we will hear the early 20th-century shocker Salome in a new production directed by Bruce Donnell. (I wish I could have combined my trip to Santa Fe's Salome with a trip to Tanglewood for James Levine's return to the podium with Elektra.) Janice Watson takes up her third Strauss role at Santa Fe as Salome, with Greer Grimsley as Jokanaan and Ragnar Ulfung as Herod.

Finally, Santa Fe has introduced an incredible number of new operas to the American public. That tradition continues this summer with the American premiere of The Tempest (2004, Covent Garden) by Thomas Adès. (That particular Shakespeare play was already adapted in a libretto by Andrew Porter for another premiere at Santa Fe, John Eaton's The Tempest, in 1985.) Some of the singers from the London premiere will be in the Santa Fe version (Cyndia Sieden in the breath-taking coloratura role of Ariel, Toby Spence as Ferdinand, and others), with William Ferguson instead of Ian Bostridge as Caliban. Alex Ross called the opera "a masterpiece of airy beauty and eerie power" in The New Yorker, and Andrew Clements said that there are "moments in all three acts which are by any standards sheerly, heartstoppingly beautiful" in The Guardian. In short, yes, I am looking forward to hearing it.

Ionarts in Santa Fe:
The Tempest | Cendrillon | Carmen | The Magic Flute | Salome

Hugh Canning (London Sunday Times, August 13)
Scott Cantrell (Dallas Morning News, August 12)
William Littler (Toronto Star, August 11)
James R. Oestreich (New York Times, August 5)


ACB said...

Toby Spence is also singing Tamino, and by many accounts (including mine), his is the best we've heard. The chemistry between him and Natalie is fantastic, as well. Enjoy it!

Safe travels, and see you next week.

Mark Barry said...

sunscreen, beer, and plenty of hot spicey food!

Charles T. Downey said...

ACB, thanks for that comment. I am sure that I will enjoy myself a lot. See you there!

Princess Alpenrose said...

Glad you guys have made that connection. I'm looking forward to your review!

(hey, look, I got an actual English word for the word verification string! That's a first... It was "split")