Summertime Vacation Destinations for Enjoying Opera, Part 2 – the 2013 Santa Fe Opera Festival

Having highlighted California’s principal summertime operatic experience [see Summertime Vacation Destinations for Enjoying Opera, Part 1 – San Francisco in June and Early July], it’s time to consider the Santa Fe Opera, which is world destination for innovative, high quality opera performed in an incomparable physical setting.

In 2013, as in every season, five operas are presented. This summer’s fare consists of new productions of Offenbach’s “The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein” and Rossini’s “La Donna del Lago (The Lady of the Lake)”, and a world premiere of “Oscar”. The season also revives two popular productions from recent seasons, Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” and Verdi’s “La Traviata”.

[Below: an aerial view of Santa Fe Opera’s John Crosby Theater and its surrounding area; edited image of a Robert Godwin photograph, courtesy of Santa Fe Opera.]


The Events of the Season

A typical Santa Fe Opera season follows traditional patterns – an opening night weekend at the end of June in which two productions are presented, followed by the three remaining productions of the season which open during the July weeks.

Then, in August, there are several opportunities for visitors to see all five operas on consecutive nights. For many operagoers throughout the nation and world, August means a week spent in Northern New Mexico to attend world class opera performance.

August often attracts the “out-of-town” media. There are also opportunities for various operatic constituencies – including the administrative and musical leadership of opera companies from far and wide and artists’ agents and publicists – to “scout” the talents that have been selected to present the summer’s offerings. [For an article on how the Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice singers are selected each year, see The Santa Fe Opera Apprentices: Interview with Director David Holloway.]

The Santa Fe Opera Festival Opening Night

However, for New Mexico residents and for “out-of-towners” – like myself – who enjoy the atmosphere (in both the cultural and meteorological nuances of the word), one of the greatest delights of all is the Santa Fe Festival’s opening night.

[Below: a tailgate party in the Santa Fe Opera parking lot; edited image, based on a photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Of course, opening nights of opera companies everywhere have their opera balls and pre-performance dinners and other social events, but there’s nothing quite like the “howdy, partner” ambiance that accompanies opening night of the Santa Fe season.

Before last year’s opening night “Tosca”, I wandered about its several different venues, dressed in tuxedo and black tie, sipping champagne, and, as a special treat, meeting New Mexicans engaged in a favorite opening night past-time, the parking lot tailgate parties.

Tailgating for “Tosca”

Tailgate parties take place in the Santa Fe Opera parking lot before every performance of the season, but those on opening night are for many opera goers the highlights of the Santa Fe social season. It is such an event that beginning this year, the Santa Fe Opera is having a contest for best Tailgate spread.

Before last year’s opening night “Tosca”, I spoke with Susan Stockstill, who has organized a tailgate party for nearly every years since 2003.

[Below: the Stockstills prepare their tailgate; edited image, based on a Dolores McElroy photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


The parties are meticulously prepared. Group tickets are secured for the Stockstill party’s participants. Once the opening night opera is announced, the planning process begins. What food should be served that fit the opening night choice of opera? What color scheme does the opera evoke, and how should that be incorporated into the decorations? What tableware displays and what linen should be used?

Larry Maldegen describes tailgate party planning meetings that scours the opening night opera’s plot summary to decide upon a half dozen tailgate dishes, each of which becomes the responsibility of one of the participants. He regards the outcome as a fantasy dinner.

Winnie Gido’s opera tailgates go back in time long before the Santa Fe Opera agreed to open their parking lot for the activity. She used to have her tailgates at the White Rock overlook, when they used to come in from the town of Los Alamos. In those days, Ms Gido taught cooking in the Los Alamos area, so, for each tailgate, she goes through past issues of Gourmet Magazine to settle on each dinner’s menu.

For “Tosca” all the main courses would be Italian, with special attention to creating the pasta.

[Below: a tailgate party in the Santa Fe Opera parking lot; edited image, based on a Dolores McElroy photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Even though New Mexicans comprise a large part of the opening night opera festivities, there were others from much farther afield. Dave Willmott travels to Santa Fe opening nights from Folsom, California, stocked with an array of Napa Valley wines.

Carol and Jim Goble were there from Fort Worth, Texas, extolling their city’s opera company and the Fort Worth cultural scene, even while absorbing the Santa Fe Opera spirit.

[Below: a group of Santa Fe Opera fans, who have organized their own tailgate party; edited image, based on a Dolores McElroy photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


For those who might want their visit to Santa Fe to be an extended vacation, Lynn Zech and Todd Davis were there from Casas de Santa Fe, that arranges vacation home rentals for patrons and clients of the opera company.

[Below: tailgaters display their themed dishes beneath a sign announcing that Santa Fe Ladies Go Wild for Tosca; edited image, based on a Dolores McElroy photograph, courteys of the Santa Fe Opera.]


 The Opera Guilds’ Cuisine at the Cantina

A few hundred yards down the hill beyond the front parking lot (serviced at specified times by a shuttle bus) the Santa Fe Opera Cantina is set up for pre-performance dinners.

Here I met with John Webber, who described the role of the network of opera guilds that represent various communities of the region. The first had been set up in 1958 in the town of Los Alamos, just after the company’s first season.

[Below: the Santa Fe Opera Cantina; resized image of a Robert Godwin photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Currently, six community guilds support the opera, representing Albuquerque and Santa Fe, as well as the smaller towns of Los Alamos, Espanola, Tusuque and Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Each guild has a degree of autonomy as to how they conduct educational programs and fundraising, but several of these local initiatives, over time, have evolved into important activities now conducted by the opera itself – the preview buffet opera dinners at the Cantina, in which a lecture on the night’s opera is presented. “Youth nights” began with the guilds, as well as the spring tours and theme-based concerts.

All of the activities of the fundraising activities – that raise around $120,000 a year – go to the Santa Fe Opera’s educational and community outreach programs.

The Operas of Summer 2013

I have posted anticipations of the new production of “Grand Duchess” directed by Lee Blakeley [see my feature at In Quest of “High Concept Direction” in Opera Performance – June-September 2013] and the new production of the seldom-performed Rossini masterpiece, “The Lady of the Lake (La Donna del Lago) [See In Quest of Rossini and Bellini – January to August 2013.]

Two of the productions are revivals of productions that I reviewed previously. First, Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” [Kwiecien, Pisaroni Lead Youthful “Figaro” Ensemble in Santa Fe – August 13, 2008]. In the 2013 mounting, Zachary Nelson is Figaro, Lisette Oropesa is Susanna, Daniel Okulitch is Almaviva. Susanna Phillips and Keith Jameson return in their respective roles. John Nelson conducts.

The second revival is, Verdi’s “La Traviata ” [Dessay’s Scintillating Role Debut as Violetta in Pelly’s Imaginative Santa Fe “Traviata” – July 3, 2009]. Brenda Rae, Michael Fabiano and Roland Wood share the lead roles, with performances conducted by Leo Hussain.

[Below: Santa Fe Opera’s Crosby Theater framed by the New Mexico sky after sunset; resized image, based on a Robert Godwin photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

godwin theater 2005

The summer festival will be the occasion for the world premiere of “Oscar” on July 27th, based on the life of poet-dramatist Oscar Wilde, written for the world’s pre-eminent counter-tenor, David Daniels [See Top of His Game – An Interview with David Daniels] by the composer-librettist team of Theodore Morrison and John Cox.

The artists co-starring with Daniels are Dwayne Croft, Ada Leverson and William Burden. The opera is conducted by Evan Rogister and choreographed by Sean Curran. The opera is staged by Kevin Newbury, with sets by David Korins. [Note the participation of Newbury, Korins and Burden in the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s “The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene” at San Francisco Opera only five weeks before this world premiere.]

For more on the Santa Fe Opera summer festivals, see: The Festivities of the Santa Fe Opera Festival: An Interview with Joyce Idema.

For ideas on restaurants and accommodations, see: Tom’s Tips on the Santa Fe Opera Scene: Discovering America’s Ultimate in Summer Opera.

For information on a summer festival held concurrently in the Northeast , see: Summertime Vacation Destinations for Enjoying Opera, Part 3 – the 2013 Glimmerglass Festival.