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SJOG Travelers

It's the Summer Festival Season again and no better place than Santa Fe
by Mort Levine

There are a handful of places in the world where opera lovers must go at least once before they die happy. Santa Fe in mid-summer is one of these.

The unique venue with its slightly quirky programming and atmosphere is a treat for the opera goer but it is also an institution which trains younger singers through an extensive apprentice program and offers contemporary composers, innovative directors and audiences one of a kind opportunities.

Guild members this summer can still catch a few days of some fantastic opera performances enhanced by the spectacular New Mexico mountain setting. The festival continues its two month season through August 25.

Entering its second half century, Santa Fe Opera is keeping faith with founder John Crosby’s vision. It continues to program a premiere, a rarity from the past, one Richard Strauss opera and then two of the ‘bread and butter’ popular offerings which keep the seats filled.

This summer’s lineup includes Tea, a Mirror of the Soul by Tan Dun, the remarkable Chinese-American composer who penned The First Emperor, a recent Metropolitan Opera triumph. The American premiere of Tea combines traditional Asian musical forms with Italian lyricism and lush orchestration. It is a doomed love affair between a Chinese princess and a Japanese monk. Haijing Fu and Kelly Kaduce are the lovers. She was featured in the title role of Madame Mao which premiered at Santa Fe in 2003.

The rarity this year is a production of Platée, a wild comedy by 18th century French composer Jean Philippe Rameau. The story is of a love-mad nymph who resides in a swamp at the base of Mount Olympus, home of Jupiter and Juno. The nymph is sung by a tenor, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, a leading French character actor-singer Laurent Pelly directs it as an exhilarating romp.

The Richard Strauss opera selected for this season is Daphne, also involving capricious and very human gods and goddesses. Although rarely seen, the opera is one of Strauss’ great works brought to the United States in 1964 by John Crosby, who conducted it. This production is staged by Mark Lamos, who did The Great Gatsby at the Met and a number of Broadway shows. A former apprentice Garrett Sorenson is singing Leukippos.

The two familiar operas this season include Cosi fan tutte which will feature a former Opera San José and San Francisco Opera favorite, Dale Travis. The versatile bass-baritone is singing Don Alfonso. Suzanne Mentzer does the comedic Despina.

The other old favorite is La Bohème, a new production designed by Paul Curran and conducted by Corrado Rovaris. Jennifer Black and Serena Farnocchia alternate in the Mimi role and Gwynn Hughes Jones and Dimitri Pittas share the Rudolfo. Musetta is being performed by Nicole Cabell, a recent winner of the “Singer of the Year” award in Cardiff, Wales.

A special treat at Santa Fe is the supertitle system which is embedded in the seat in front of you. The digital readout can be controlled individually for brightness or even turned off. It is rapidly becoming the standard at many opera houses around the world. So, can we still call them supertitles?

The other aspects of a Santa Fe trip include a wide range of activities related to the operas themselves such as lectures, tours and recitals, along with special performances by the apprentices. Visitors also can take in the Santa Fe Chamber Music festival which runs concurrently and has many daytime concerts and open rehearsals. The abundance of fine restaurants, unique shops and art galleries also prove tempting diversions during the day. A sprinkling of interesting museums and field trips to nearby national monuments and the Los Alamos National Laboratory and museum will fill out any amount of time you might have.

There is also a very wide range of hotels, B and B’s, motels and resorts to choose from. One of note is the 19-units of "casitas", small detached units not far from the central plaza, owned by Neil Rosenshein, a longtime Met opera tenor. Stay there and your next door neighbor just might be on stage that night.

(SJOG Newsletter August, 2007 issue)


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Banner photos by Bob Shomler
©San José Opera Guild   2008