SANTA FE, N.M., September 9, 2012 – The Santa Fe Opera recently wrapped up its highly successful 2012—a season notable for its high level of musical and theatrical excellence, its innovative programming, and, truth be told, the friendly, relaxed atmosphere that it’s spectacular outdoor venue seems to encourage. Unlike most major opera companies that open their primary performance seasons in the fall, the Santa Fe’s main season is in the summer, the better to take advantage of the surprisingly temperate and often breezy nights characteristic of its high desert locale.
We had the opportunity to visit the opera last month to attend two of this season’s offerings. We’d also scheduled a third, a notable performance of a reconstructed version of Rossini’s Maometto II which held great interest for us both scholarly and musically. But alas, auto troubles curtailed our schedule, forcing us to shorten our stay in New Mexico.
While we still lament having to miss the Rossini, we were able to take in performances of Richard Strauss’ late opera Arabella as well as the opera that had really piqued our interest in this trip, Witold Szymanowski’s King Roger—a sumptuous, complex, and exotic work virtually unknown in this country but now gaining attention throughout the opera world almost 90 years after its premiere in Poland. We’ll be offering full reviews and wrap ups of both operas a bit later this week.
During our stay in what just might be the nation’s most picturesque state capital, we were also invited to a marvelously diverse Saturday evening of opera and Broadway arias and songs at the opera’s home venue, hosted by New Mexico native and famed opera star Susan Graham who has a long history with her home state opera company.
Entitled, appropriate, “Susan Graham and Friends,” this was one of those gala events that fans of various opera companies look forward to enjoying from time to time. The atmosphere during Santa Fe’s gala was easygoing, with its program focused on old favorites plus a few surprises, all sung by Ms. Graham and quite a few of her talented fellow singers, some of them in the cast of Santa Fe’s 2012 opera productions, others who just managed to drop in for the occasion.
An added plus for this Saturday evening gala—at least for newcomers such as ourselves—was the unexpectedly and impossibly romantic aura that occurs as the sun sets over this picturesque, high-desert venue. Actually, it was mostly clouds that set this time, since Santa Fe was still in the midst of a disappointingly dry “monsoon” season in early August. Yet even these clouds were tinged with splashes of orange and pink desert sunshine as evening fell.
Spectacular scenery aside, the gala program itself couldn’t have been better, ranging as it did from beloved classic opera moments like “C’est toi, mon père” (“It’s you, my father,” better known orchestrally these days as the “Meditation”) from Massenet’s Thaïs, beautifully sung by Erin Wall and Mark Delavan; and Dido’s lament “Ah! Je vais mourir” (Oh, I am going to die”) from Berlioz’ epic Les Troyens, sung with great passion by Ms. Graham herself; to great Broadway favorites like Luca Pisaroni’s stirring version of “Some Enchanted Evening” from Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and a fine, romantic rendition of Lerner and Loewe’s “If Ever I Would Leave You,” from Camelot, the latter made even more poignant by the considerable vocal skills of Nicholas Pallesan and Erin Wall.
The Santa Fe Opera orchestra couldn’t have sounded better, performing crisply and well under the baton of conductor Kenneth Montgomery. Piano accompaniments were handled with care and sensitivity by the company’s Chief Conductor, Frédéric Chaslin. (Maestro Chaslin, alas, will be leaving the company, news that was only recently announced.)
This was our first trip to visit the Santa Fe Opera and we (and friends who joined us in New Mexico) were greatly impressed by this company’s unique blend of elegance and informality, all of which were further enhanced by a high degree of organizational professionalism, musical excellence, and innovative to downright daring opera choices. This year’s Santa Fe repertoire was actually the kind of season we wish our own hometown Washington National Opera would try to establish now that its finances are on a firmer footing, courtesy of its new partnership with the Kennedy Center.
Again, more on the Santa Fe Opera Arabella and King Roger a bit later this week. Stay tuned.
Rating: *** (Three stars.)
Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.
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