Santa Fe: Nights at the Opera

A summer rite of passage for opera fans, the Santa Fe Opera conjures magic. Known for jaw-dropping interpretations of classical repertoire, not to mention the edgy staging of innovative work, the opera brings talented musical stars from its company — as well visiting artists — to perform in the open-air Crosby Theatre at the Santa Fe Opera House just outside of town.

Audiences gaze out over provocative and elaborate stage sets to the eerily stirring mountainous landscape. Moving on every level, the performances are unforgettable. No wonder an estimated 85,000 people flock to the theater each year — more than half of them coming from out of state.

One year, we watched as men in powdered wigs frolicked on a stage bedecked with tall, stemmed flowers in the company’s production of The Marriage of Figaro.  As the opening measures of Mozart’s beloved opera set the musical mood, these cast members plucked the flowers and laid them into baskets. Rather than a classic set, they were backed by the majesty of nature’s backdrop through an open space behind the stage.  Here, as the ensemble begin to fill the stage, a pink-tinged, tangerine sun slid downward from the dark sky, slipping behind the craggy peaks of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains.

Enchanting, this melding of art and nature ensured a heady state of mind, perfectly presaging the drama to come.

This year’s season has been just as spellbinding, offering a repertoire of popular favorites like Gounod’s Faust (a first for the company) and Puccini’s La Boheme (a revival of its 2007 production), as well as    lesser-heard works like Berg’s Wozzeck and Griselda by Vivaldi (who knew?) that continues through August. That last, to be staged by Peter Sellars, relays the 100th tale of Boccaccio’s 14th-century saga, Decameron. The first major production of this in the year… enowned theater director returns to helm this production, marking his fourth year at Santa Fe.

Photos courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

To make a night of it — performances don’t start until sundown — consider joining opera regulars to tailgate in the parking lot, which opens three hours in advance. If you prefer not to pack your own meal, order a gourmet box dinners online or by phone when buying your tickets.  Or, for a special experience, attend a pre-performance talks and enjoy an elegant preview buffet al fresco.

Single tickets, which run from  $35 can be bought on line or by calling the company box office at 800-280-4654.