OK, since glorious summer has finally arrived, packed with festival and spectacle, our thoughts must turn to the great levelling agent in all this annual high-minded frivolity. Yes: Parking.
So kudos to the Santa Fe Opera for addressing part of our town’s perennial parking problemas. Out with their old lot, a system largely dating way back to 1968, frustrating and fraught. For 2017, expect pristine blacktop and sharply delineated parking spaces. Expect new landscaping. Expect a revised entrance/exit strategy. Plus, as SFO’s general director Charles MacKay remarked with a wry smile last week, “Get ready for a new learning curve.”
It’s not just an innovative parking scheme to get ready for—season 61 lacks the lashings of Mozart, Puccini and Richard Strauss that typified programming here since 1957. Three of the summer’s five new productions are never-befores in the repertory: Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel, opening July 15; Mason Bates’ The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, opening July 22; and Handel’s Alcina, opening July 29.
The season’s starter on June 30, Johann Strauss Jr.’s boozy-woozy masquerade, Die Fledermaus, scores bigly on at least three points: It’s been missing from the rep for 25 years, it was nine-year-old MacKay’s first opera and the show finally gets Susan Graham back into a pair of pants.
But hold the champagne on July 1 when Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor runs elaborately mad in the person of Brenda Rae. As a sort of anti-innovation, SFO’s Lucia accompaniments return to Donizetti’s original score, one that employs that eerie rarity, a glass harmonica, instead of a flute. Remember Björk’s “All Neon Like”? That’s the instrument.
Venerable composer-critic Virgil Thomson dubbed Rimsky’s Cockerel score “lascivious and sparkling.” Hear for yourself when Tim Mix, replacing Eric Owens, sings the idiotic, self-obsessed Tsar Dodon in this upside-down absurdist satire. The show’s otherwise voluptuous costuming won’t give Dodon a vermilion Scotch-taped neck-dangle, alas, but look out, whew, for the Queen’s R-rated strip-tease.
Director David Alden’s madcap, hyper-theatrical take on Alcina wraps up the season. Music hall antics, a homage to Woody Allen and a gorilla-suited tenor all join up with reams of gorgeous florid singing for an evening to, like it or not, remember. And remember also that “baroque” originally meant “funny-looking pearl.” Got that?
You might think Steve Jobs to be an unlikely operatic hero: cold of heart, detached and egotistical. Nonetheless, for SFO’s penultimate opera of the season, a world premiere, composer Mason Bates and librettist Mark Campbell present a dynamic evolutionary portrait of the man. As the opera’s tricky title hints, Jobs will undergo a transformation from self-involved boy genius into a man understanding and accepting of his own mortality. A central image for this process is the Zen Buddhist ensō, a calligraphic circle suggesting, among much else, a freedom of spirit from constraints of the mind.
Befitting its subject, this will be the most technologically virtuosic production in the company’s history. It wants to engage the largest possible audience, just as Jobs’ elegant machines have done. EM Forster may have said it: “Only connect!” But Steve Jobs did it.