Opera under the stars
They’re waiting for you — Don Pasquale, Carmen, Fidelio and others. They know you love opera and you’ve never seen it performed on a world-class stage in the middle of nowhere.
Seriously, I’ve seen Don Pasquale before, but never a performance that would compare with the open-air version we enjoyed recently at The Santa Fe Opera. The music and staging were terrific and the isolated Northern New Mexico setting added volumes to the drama.
The theatre is located 15 minutes outside of Santa Fe on what was once a sprawling dude ranch. J. Robert Oppenheimer and others associated with the Los Alamos Laboratory stayed here from time to time while they were working on the Manhattan Project.
In the 1950s the property was purchased by John Crosby who went on to found the Santa Fe Opera in 1957. Today, 2128 patrons enjoy state-of-the-art facilities and the lights of Los Alamos sparkling in the distance.
“Our company’s DNA is from John Crosby,” one enthusiastic fan explained. “He believed in artistic daring and financial prudence. We continue to produce new and rarely performed operas, as well as standards — and we’ve always operated in the black.”
Santa Fe Opera’s apprentice program helps the company balance the budget. Every year, about 1,000 talented young singers apply for the upcoming season. The 40 men and women who are chosen perform in the ensemble and receive coaching and voice lessons, as well as a stipend. The Opera helps them find housing and welcomes their families to swim in the old dude ranch pool, so it’s no wonder the program has long been known as “the world’s greatest summer camp for singers.” A parallel process selects 75 technical apprentices who work on costumes, props, sets, and lighting.
Not only do the chorus members come from far and wide, more than 40 percent of the audience comes from outside New Mexico. In addition, lead singers, conductors, and directors — who appreciate the company’s openness to new ideas — travel to Santa Fe from all around the globe.
Lucky you, in August the Opera’s productions are performed in repertory, so you can see Don Pasquale, Carmen, Fidelio, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, and the double bill of The Impresario and Le Rossignol one right after the other. While you’re on the Web site figuring out the schedule, you may also want to book a backstage tour and make plans for dinner. We enjoyed the Preview Buffet, which included an informative talk about Don Pasquale during dessert. The Opera also offers Tailgate Picnics. (www.santafeopera.org)
Where to Stay & Dine in Santa Fe
We stayed at — and really liked — the Inn on the Alameda. This cozy boutique hotel includes colorful flower gardens and picturesque patios. Our deluxe king came with a fireplace and balcony. The Sanchez Suites are larger and include separate living rooms. I loved that the inn was a couple of blocks from the Plaza, which, in summertime, is very busy and somewhat noisy.
All guests at the Inn on the Alameda enjoy a complimentary cooked breakfast and a hosted wine and cheese hour in the afternoon. In addition, we had a terrific dinner one night in the hotel’s Agoyo Lounge. The menu includes a tasty range of small plates and light main courses. My husband and I started with baked Brie in crispy phyllo dough served with toasted spiced nuts and fresh fruit. We also really liked the “tarte of the day,” which was flatbread topped with crème fraiche, smoked salmon, spinach, and Gruyere cheese. (www.innonthealameda.com)
The temperature during our stay was about the same as San Diego, and when it rained one afternoon we made the wise decision to splurge on treatments at Nidah Spa in the El Dorado Hotel. Here, indigenous products are incorporated in the massage oils: I enjoyed the Spun Gold treatment and Richard liked his Turquoise Gemstone. The El Dorado is also home to The Old House Restaurant. (www.eldoradohotel.com)
Another day we spent time at the wonderful Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and enjoyed lunch nearby at Georgia, a new bistro and wine bar. The artist loved the great open spaces of Northern New Mexico, and I bet she’d be mighty surprised to learn that one of those spaces is now home to a world-class opera theatre. ELIZABETH HANSEN
Santa Fe Opera Theatre: photo by Robert Godwin All other photography by ADAMS/HANSEN STOCK PHOTOS