Mike wasn’t phobic, really. For him, opera was just—out there someplace. A longtime faculty pal, Ph.D., poet, great at pickin’ and singin’ and wise in the ways of Delta blues, he arrived in Santa Fe a couple of summers ago with the Santa Fe Opera on the to-do list and tickets to Rossini’s Maometto II in his pocket. We were worried. A long, super-serioso operatic outing for a relative neophyte? Come intermission, we prepared to face polite boredom. Then, Mike’s first words:
“Now. I. Get. It.”
SFO audiences have been getting it since 1957. It’s not just the world’s most beautiful opera house, as some say, nor even the operas themselves, as well-sung and ingeniously produced as they usually are. Call it (pretentious word alert!) a sort of hilltop gesamtkunstwerk, the term Wagner used to describe a blending of all the arts—music, drama, dance, painting, poetry—into a rare harmonious whole.
So add those beauteous sunsets, comfortable tailgating, user-friendly programs and relaxed good cheer into the mix, and believe me, there’s nothing to be phobic about at SFO’s Crosby Theater. The incomparable Desirée Mays delivers post-dinner, pre-opera talks down at the Canteen; the ever-ebullient Oliver Prezant offers, gratis, pre-opera sessions at Stieren Hall. There’s a new, generous “family night” option, and discounts abound for New Mexico residents new to opera, military members and seniors. And the upcoming season? Fear not.
Carmen slinks onstage on June 27, mad, bad, and dangerous to know, as was said of another great seducer. She’s among the most fatal of opera’s femmes fatales and as overwhelmingly melodic as Bizet’s tragic score may be, that “Fate” theme ranks high among the genre’s most deadly earworms.
Love pretty much conquers all when Donizetti’s exuberant Don Pasquale trots into the repertory on June 28. But not before disguise, anxiety and tomfoolery play a part. Stage director Laurent Pelly’s well-known comic genius should be front and center.
Forget comedy when the SFO mounts its first-ever production of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, on July 12. Passionate and deeply moving, the piece stands unique in the canon as its composer’s ecstatic hymn to freedom amid a dark world of tyranny and torture.
A bright-idea double bill arrives on July 19 when Mozart’s brisk satire on squabbling prima donnas, The Impresario, segues into Stravinsky’s haunting fairy-tale pageant, Le Rossignol. Don’t be surprised if real-life impresario, Serge Diaghilev, is a linking device.
Capping the season, SFO presents the American premiere of Huang Ruo’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, opening July 26. Stressing the vulnerable humanity of that revolutionary leader, Huang blends Chinese with Western modalities in a lyrical fusion that steers way clear of agitprop.