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Santa Fe Opera, 2009 Season

Richard Gaddes rides off into the sunsetIn the spring Santa Fe Opera announced its 2009 season, the first after retiring General Director Richard Gaddes (shown at right, as in the season program, riding off into the sunset) is succeeded by Charles MacKay, who comes from Opera Theater of St. Louis, as did Gaddes -- as Anne Midgette put it, "In opera, the incest isn't only onstage." MacKay will be in charge, but folks at the opera made clear that next season was mostly the work of Gaddes, his last one rather than MacKay's first.

On the surface the season looks slightly lackluster, with three warhorses on the schedule (La Traviata, L'Elisir d'Amore, and Mozart again with Don Giovanni). Read the details, however, and you learn that the Traviata will bring the Laurent Pelly team (Cendrillon, Platée) back to Santa Fe, with Natalie Dessay taking on her first Violetta (we heard her first Pamina at Santa Fe in 2006). Rounding out the French connection is Laurent Naouri as Germont, which will be somewhat strange to see -- husband and wife in that father-"daughter" duet (Naouri will be replaced again by Anthony Michaels-Moore later in the season).

The other two warhorses are less exciting, in terms of the productions and the casting, which focuses mostly on former apprentice singers (although they are all strong). Elisir will star Jennifer Black as Adina and the remarkable Patrick Carfizzi as Belcore, in a Broadway production directed by Jerry Zaks. Don Giovanni, disappointingly, was last heard at Santa Fe only in 2004, but its cast will have Susanna Phillips as Donna Elvira and Kate Lindsey, from Roanoke, Virginia, as Zerlina. The production is a revival of Chas Rader-Shieber's 2004 staging -- did this fill a slot left absent by something else more interesting that fell through?

Paul Moravec, composerThe Santa Fe Opera programming formula calls for one world premiere or American premiere, and that slot next year goes to Paul Moravec's first opera, The Letter, based on Somerset Maugham’s 1927 short story of the same name (via the author's own adaptation as a play). Moravec (pictured) and his librettist, critic and blogger Terry Teachout, were both at Santa Fe Opera this summer and spoke to me about their continuing work on the opera, which was commissioned by the company, reportedly after Moravec won his Pulitzer for The Tempest Fantasy.

The piano-vocal score is finished, and the vocal parts have been fine-tuned in many cases in close consultation with the singers who are engaged for the world premiere next summer. Ionarts favorite Patricia Racette will star as Leslie Crosbie, with Anthony Michaels-Moore as Robert Crosbie, and James Maddalena as Howard Joyce. Moravec will begin the orchestration later this year. In terms of world premieres of new opera, the creative team is light years ahead of schedule -- Osvaldo Golijov was still making changes to Ainadamar at the final rehearsals. Terry's posts about his libretto clearly rubbed La Cieca the wrong way, but we will reserve judgment until we hear the whole work next summer. To judge from how Moravec described his musical approach to the story, it sounds like it will be a 90-minute roller coaster ride, without intermission.

Last is what may turn out to be the high point of the season, a new production of Gluck's Alceste, an important work entering the Santa Fe repertory for the first time. It will also be the debut of Christine Brewer in the title role. Kenneth Montgomery will conduct, perhaps not an inspiring choice, and Francisco Negrin will direct. It is wonderful to see 18th-century opera other than Mozart (Rameau, Handel, now Gluck) at Santa Fe, but this critic is secretly hoping that Mr. MacKay, somewhere in the back of his mind, has a plan to bring Lully's Alceste to the Santa Fe stage, or bring back some Monteverdi or Cavalli, neither heard there since the 1980s. There is an entire century, opera's first, from which to choose.

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