Local heroes up the ante for homegrown performance.

The Santa Fe Opera's first large-scale community arts project,

Memorylines: Santa Fe, Voices from a Collective Journey/Voces de Nuestras Jornadas

, marks a new role for the organization.

The SFO has been, traditionally, a highbrow organization that brings in hundreds of artists from all over the

country and the world who only stay for the summer.


Now, with


, the Santa Fe Opera has jumped into the local performing arts scene.

The project is the result of the opera's 50th anniversary, which provides the opportunity for the SFO to look at its connection to the community.

"It was intended to be reflective: What is the Santa Fe of the last 50 years and what is opera in the 21st century?" Andrea Fellows Walters, SFO's education and outreach coordinator, says. SFO intends to schedule other such projects in the future, Walters adds.

Several accomplished local poets, writers, historians, composers and artists helped facilitate the creation of the work. However, the opera itself was generated through a unique collaborative process: The libretto, music and staging arose out of the journals, ideas and participation of the entire cast over a four-month period.

The end result is not a narrative story or an opera in the traditional sense, but a "multimedia exploration of the personal and shared experiences that separate and connect us across cultural, economic and generational boundaries," according to director Molly Sturges.

Poet and College of Santa Fe creative writing professor Valerie Martinez, who helped with the libretto, recently spoke to SFR about the project's collaborative process. "


has been truly transformative," Martinez says. "Writing an opera with 23 other librettists has been the most complex, challenging, enlightening and joyful creative experience of my life."

Adds choreographer Rulan Solis-Diala Tangen, "This project was an unforgettable forging of community."

Like the community,


is demographically diverse; the ages of the cast members range from 8 to 87. Participants come from local schools and nursing homes. The


opera is bilingual. Some of the cast members have performed before. Others, like Lupe Garza, a fine arts painter and a letter carrier for the US Postal Service, are making their performing arts debuts.

"We were total strangers four months ago," Garza says of his castmates. "What's significant is that people unknown to each other have pulled themselves together to present this picture. The diversity of the ensemble and of the personal stories reflects the diversity of Santa Fe."

Cast member Agnes Trujillo (Valerie Martinez' grandmother) traces her last performing arts experience to the 1930s, when she was a high school student at the long-gone Loretto Academy. "I've enjoyed everybody," Trujillo says of her experience. "We met a lot of nice people."

The musical score, by co-composer Chris Jonas with input from the entire cast, will be performed by an orchestra of nine musicians. (Full disclosure: This author has performed musically with both Jonas and Sturges, and also is a musician in residence for the SFO's student-produced opera programs.) Jonas also provides the video component for the piece and was awarded the New Visions Award by the New Mexico Film Office for that aspect of the opera. Additionally, the performance includes audio recordings of elder participants from Santa Fe Cares.

New Mexico state historian Estevan Rael-Galvez, a consultant for


, reflects on the significance of the project: "Santa Fe is a place where wisdom is as deep as it is contested.


is about acknowledging the amazing depth and breadth of who we are in this place."