Case in point: the office of John O Crosby, presiding genius and general director of the Santa Fe Opera for some 45 years, aka The Founder, versus the office of Richard Gaddes, SFO’s about-to-retire general director since 2000, whose career has been directly linked with the opera for 25 years and who makes no bones about referring to Crosby as My Predecessor.
The old San Juan Ranch provides the settings for both offices—specifically the sprawling ranch headquarters building, just down the hill from the opera house, that has served as administrative nexus for the company since its beginnings in 1956.
Command central for Crosby had been a small structure set apart from the main ranch building. Its private entrance opened to an anteroom presided over by his administrative assistant, who guarded the sanctum sanctorum. Here Crosby presided, ensconced in an apse-like alcove surrounded by tapes, records and his personal library. There wasn’t a moat, exactly, to safeguard The Founder’s privacy, but the impression left on a visitor? Defensive inaccessibility.
None of that for Gaddes. Although his office isn’t particularly easy to find, it’s notably inside the labyrinthine ranch house, reached by a series of twists and turns, then up a stairway to a large, dim room with loaded bookshelves, a conference table and an unpretentious desk where sits the man himself, business-like, affable, sipping an energy drink. And here, in tone if not in measured yards, we’re miles distant from the quasi-imperial isolation of his predecessor.
The question people have been asking Gaddes, who’s fit as any fiddle at 66, is: What’s the next thing for you? He’s not giving any long-term answers other than to say, “After Sept. 30, I won’t be accepting any more paychecks, period. And there are any number of things I just haven’t found time for.”
In the immediate future, he’ll spend three months in Rome working on his Italian. “I need to keep up my end at dinner parties.” Then he’ll go back to the north of England to walk the Pennine Way, the country’s 270 mile answer to our Appalachian Trail. “I want to get back up north, see friends, revisit old places. I had a very happy childhood there.”
He may serve on a few more boards. Currently he’s a major player with the Pulitzer Foundation and thinks he has more advisory and guidance roles to play in the arts. His inclusion last spring among the first four recipients of the prestigious NEA Lifetime Opera Honors attests to that. And he swears, firmly, that any further connection with the SFO will be very, very low profile. “I’ll always be available for whenever they need me, of course, and I may slip into the back row from time to time. But I’m never going to be in Charles’ [MacKay, the incoming general director’s] way.”
Gaddes’ tone signals that it had not been that way when Crosby left the general directorship 8 years ago. But he has the highest praise for his predecessor. “An icon. I can’t tell you how much I learned from him. He taught me how to be tough. He was a compassionate man, a man of honor, a loyal colleague always and, of course, a great worrier.”
Gaddes speaks frankly about the demands of his job. “It’s hideously stressful. It devours your life.” He’s equally frank about what he’s accomplished during his tenure as general director. Perhaps his biggest single achievement has been making the SFO more user-friendly. Under Crosby, the company had maintained an aloof profile. Gaddes has changed all that.
He’s proud of the American premieres he’s presented, especially of Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin and Adriana Mater and Golijov’s Ainadamar and Adès’ The Tempest. “Their composers all remarked that ours were the definitive productions, bar none. And they found their audiences. We’ve had to add performances.”
He has brought great singers to Santa Fe, known quantities like Natalie Dessay plus younger voices like Elizabeth Watts. Superstar directors like Peter Sellars and Jonathan Kent are firmly on board, too. The orchestra is markedly improved and the apprentice program—in a competitive time—is better than ever.
He’ll be handing over to MacKay a company in fine artistic and financial shape, though Gaddes’ mark will be firmly in evidence for at least two more seasons, what with repertory and artists already in place for the most part. He’s known MacKay, his successor at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, virtually forever. “He’s superbly equipped for the job, attuned to the company’s needs, present and future. He’s a great fund-raiser. And he’s not given to testiness like me.”
Testy or not, Gaddes will be remembered warmly as the man who respected the SFO’s traditions, extended its reach and expanded its artistic horizons. Everyone I’ve talked with has remarked, unprompted, on his company’s energy and spirit. So—time for your bow, Maestro Gaddes.