Black Mirror, the eerie near-future anthology series on Netflix, might have captured the national zeitgeist, but I'm waiting for its opera adaptation. There's perhaps no art form better suited to our melodramatic moment than opera. Its roots are gilded and intricate, extending deep into the crystalline well of the upper class and highbrow. However, its most celebrated contemporary practitioners are determined to blow it all up in favor of the proletariat.
Just take a gander at the Santa Fe Opera's 62nd season, which features five productions and 36 performances between June 29 and Aug. 25. One of the highlights is John Adams and Peter Sellars' 2005 opera Doctor Atomic. Set at Los Alamos National Labs in the summer of 1945, it chronicles the sweaty, contentious run-up to the Manhattan Project's first successful atomic bomb test. The rest of this year's productions are packed with wealthy and callous men, sharp women who are determined to turn the tables, decadent but ill-fated parties, and catastrophes both natural and manmade. They're sure to conjure a disturbingly familiar—and wonderfully cathartic—sense of chaos.
BEFORE AND AFTER
Remember those "me in 2016/me in 2017" memes that ruled the Internet at the beginning of last year? "Me in 2016" would show a fresh-faced celebrity at the pinnacle of their career, and "me in 2017" was the same celebrity after their inevitable downfall. Think Mean Girls-era Lindsay Lohan followed by one of her bedraggled mugshots. Leonard Bernstein's Candide, an operetta adapted from a Voltaire story that debuted on Broadway in 1956, is this type of love story.
Candide and his fiancee Cunegonde live by the sunny mantra, "Everything's for the best in this best of all possible worlds." Spoiler alert: They're swiftly separated and survive volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, shipwrecks, poverty, prostitution, warfare and—yes—the Spanish Inquisition before reuniting. Battered but not broken, they decide to scale back their life philosophy a bit. Candide is a company premiere for the Santa Fe Opera, with nine performances from June 29 through August 25. It's part of the global celebration #BernsteinAt100, honoring the legendary composer's centenary.
Attention, amateur sleuths of Santa Fe: The original Santa Fe Opera theater burned down in July 1967, and the cause is still a mystery. The company valiantly completed its season in the Sweeney Gymnasium (now the Santa Fe Community Convention Center), and managed to build a new theater by the following season. Madame Butterfly was the first production on the new stage—a phoenix from the ashes. The selection was fitting: Giacomo Puccini's beloved opera was also the Santa Fe Opera's first-ever production in 1957.
This year marks the new building's 50th anniversary, so it's fitting once again that Madame Butterfly would come in for another landing. It's a simple, devastating opera based on an 1898 novella by John Luther Long and a Broadway adaptation by David Belasco. An American naval lieutenant and a 15-year-old Japanese geisha fall in love and she bears a child. He abandons her, and she awaits his return in anguish. When he finally reappears, he's accompanied by his new wife. Things don't end well. There will be 11 performances of Madame Butterfly between June 30 and Aug. 24. This is one of Santa Fe Opera's most popular shows of all time, so get your tickets early.
It's chilling that Doctor Atomic still feels topical 73 years after the events of its story, but nuclear apocalypse remains America's favorite fever dream. This will be the first time the 2005 opera is performed in New Mexico—with the lights of Los Alamos visible from the open-air venue, to boot. It's also the first work by Nixon in China composer John Adams to appear at Santa Fe Opera. The New Yorker deemed Doctor Atomic his "most complex and inventive work." The libretto is a stunning palimpsest of excerpts from declassified government documents, firsthand accounts of the Manhattan Project, poetry, Native American song and a Hindu holy text. This tale brings up gut-wrenching moral questions that we may confront again in the coming years. Pay attention. Doctor Atomic debuts July 14, with six performances through Aug. 16.
In an opera for the #MeToo movement, Italian model Isabella crash-lands in Algiers on a mission to rescue her lover Lindoro from the tyrannical ruler Mustafà. She fends off romantic advances from Mustafà and the drooling Taddeo, squashes the entire Algerian army, and heads back to Italy with Lindoro in tow. Gioachino Rossini composed The Italian Girl in Algiers in 1813 when he was just 21 years old, and it carries a youthful, kinetic zing that has enchanted audiences for centuries. This production first debuted at Santa Fe Opera in 2002. The revival is once again set in the 1930s, with the protagonist dressed like Amelia Earhart and the set decked out with hot air balloons and a biplane. You're sure to catch glimmers of Patty Jenkins' 2017 hit film Wonder Woman in this one. The Italian Girl in Algiers runs July 21 through Aug. 17, with five performances.
IT’LL BE FUN
If we've learned one thing from our first year in Trumplandia, it should be this: If a filthy rich and hopelessly conceited man invites you to an ostensibly entertaining party, it will rapidly turn into a horror show. Ariadne Auf Naxos, a 1912 opera by German composer Richard Strauss, is Santa Fe Opera's hilarious case study on this phenomenon. The wealthiest man in Vienna throws a massive soiree, punctuated by a burlesque show and an opera seria. When time for the two performances grows unexpectedly tight, the opera's composer is forced to weave the burlesque performers into his plot—to the dismay of the opera divas. Life and entertainment collide, and disillusionment reigns. Sound familiar? Ariadne Auf Naxos was last presented at the Santa Fe Opera in 1999. It opens July 28 and closes Aug. 23, with five performances.