It was in the early 1980’s when I first attended the Santa Fe Opera, one of the most beautiful and most unique opera houses in the world. It is, perhaps, a side effect of coming of age during the 1960s that I can no longer remember exactly which opera I first saw, but the setting itself has always made an impression on me.
John Crosby, a musical genius from Manhattan (recently biographized by Santa Fe writer Craig Smith in A Vision of Voices: John Crosby and the Santa Fe Opera), had a dream of an outdoor summer opera company that would take advantage of the countless performers, musicians, conductors, and technicians who were annually idle when the Metropolitan Opera in New York City closed for the summer. He found the San Juan Ranch outside of Santa Fe and with his family was able to purchase what would become the location. He found the perfect acoustical setting and the rest is history.
The house is designed so the brilliantly dying light of the setting sun comes straight through the open but covered stage, a stunning backdrop for any opera.
Photo credit wikimedia commons
To the East, each evening, the image of the reddening Sangre de Cristo mountains attests to the appropriateness of their name. The otherworldly red of the foothills struck the Spanish settlers as evidence of the divine, the blood of Christ made manifest. It is these features that shelter the bowl of the opera house providing an appropriately awe-inspiring landscape upon which the fine arts of mankind can play themselves out. But I digress.
Since that first production, I try to see at least one opera per season, always the one recommended by Nancy Zeckendorf, my close friend and co-founding director of the Lensic Performing Arts Center. Nancy’s influence on me cannot be described. It was she who brought me onto the board of the opera in 1986, first to run the business fund drive, later as treasurer and chairman of the facilities committee.
Even still, I cannot remember my first opera’s name! It was a board-known fact that I never developed the deep understanding and knowledge of opera. Nevertheless, it was just as board-known that my enthusiasm and drive more than made up for my other shortcomings.
Besides, I was surrounded by people who knew everything about opera. My speech and drama background from college drove my interests more to the physical plant side of the performing arts, and therein lay the key to my interest in helping create Santa Fe’s finest and most versatile venue: the Lensic Performing Arts Center. Along with Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf, Patricia McFate, and Alexis Girard, the dream came true, a dream that is much more fitting to my strengths as a builder and developer (like Bill).
The Lensic offers such a variety of programming. To name a few: the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, the Lannan and Santa Fe Institute lecture series, the New Mexico Jazz Festival, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Met Live, and Performance Santa Fe. All valuable cultural institutions, all as worthwhile as the opera, and all of which I’ve attended.
As for opera, I have seen dozens since that first one now forgotten, and I’ve always been impressed and had a wonderful evening. And what it’s taught me is how communal and convivial an outing it is—before, during, and after. Operagoers—regulars and first-timers—typically turn a night at the opera into a nightlong experience, with drinks or dinner beforehand (the opening night tailgate at the Santa Fe Opera is legendary), food and libations at intermission (though moderately), or dinner and/or drinks afterward.
Which is why I heartily recommend our own Agoyo Lounge as the perfect complement—to the opera or any of the many other cultural events going on throughout Santa Fe. Come in for an early dinner (starting at 5:30–please call for reservations) or an aperitif beforehand, or if it’s a shorter performance, come by for a late dinner or digestif.
Whatever your taste in the arts, the tastes at the Agoyo are unsurpassed and you will always be pleased, just as I have at the many operas I have attended. I just wish I could remember that first one. No matter. What I do remember vividly is the first time I watched lightning and giant black rainstorms rolling into town past the SFO stage, which now, like the entire audience, is fortunately covered from the elements.
Jewish history in New Mexico goes back, it has been argued, to the founding of the colony. There is evidence that some contemporary New Mexican Hispanics may be descended from “Crypto-Jews” or Marranos. These would have been Sephardic Jews during the 15th and 16th century who, under penalties of the inquisition, were forced to convert to Catholicism; yet still retained certain cultural markers of Jewish identity.
Temple Montefiore, Las Vegas, NM – First Jewish House of Worship in NM
Facing enormous consequences if caught, the “conversos” who chose to continue practicing Jewish rituals and identity found themselves forced to the edge of the Spanish Empire, or the New Mexican colonies of the Southwest. Though the evidence is controversial, there have been both ethnographic and genetic pieces of evidence linking the latino culture of New Mexico with Jewish descent. There are oral accounts of keeping practices like Kosher slaughter and celebration of the sabbath as well as DNA evidence. One genetic study of 78 latino New Mexicans centering on Albuquerque found 30 displaying genetic markers associated with Jewish descent, markers found in only 1% of the general population.
Temple Beth Shalom, Santa Fe, NM
The history of Ashkenazic Jews in New Mexico is more recent and less controversial. Like many pioneers, they welcomed the opportunities present with the opening of the Southwest and the United States’ control over the New Mexico territory. Trade routes that were oriented to Mexico and were zealously guarded by Spanish policy became disrupted as New Mexico began to orient itself with the greater American market and economy.
Jewish heritage places high values on learning and education, and with a propensity for business, these immigrants were able to grow in prominence in the mercantile trade.
Some of the Jewish families who responded to these opportunities were the Bibo family, ten siblings who immigrated to New Mexico during the 1870s. Three of them started mercantile businesses. Jewish traditions of helping out family and relatives led to increased immigration as Jews prospered and sent for their families back east. The Spiegelberg family, for instance, was a major influence in the territorial economy. Wili Spiegelberg was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Second National Bank of Santa Fe. The Spiegelbergs provided work and welcome for many Jewish immigrants, employing several members of the Bibo family and welcoming their cousins, the Zeckendorfs, who opened several stores in Santa Fe and one in Albuquerque. After the Civil War, however, business got tougher and the Zeckendorfs headed to Tucson and opened a store there. Eventually they migrated back to New York where they became successful real-estate developers. In the 1980s, Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf returned again to Santa Fe and became leading developers and patrons of the arts, instrumental in both the growth of the Santa Fe Opera and the creation of the Lensic Performing Arts Center.
Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf, Dear Friends of Joe Schepps
The Jewish community remains a vibrant one in Santa Fe and one which visitors can explore. During your next stay at the Inn, be sure to take a trip to the Santa Fe Opera House and the Lensic Performing Arts Center – two Santa Fe landmarks that exist today thanks to the hard work and dedication of my friends, the Zeckendorfs.
Inn on the Alameda, That Enchanting Small Hotel in Old Santa Fe, proudly presents all historical blog posts written by Joe & Michael Schepps. Read about the authors here.
Santa Fe has a vibrant musical scene, and not just during the summer season, when we welcome the Santa Fe Opera and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. We are fortunate that our small town is rich in talented musicians all year-round.
Spencer Myer, Photo Courtesy Santa Fe Symphony & Chorus
The Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus is one of our local treasures, and not just because they bring us the Messiah every holiday season! The Symphony, under the baton of Stephen Smith, offers the orchestral repertoire, and a range of soloists, to music lovers throughout the year. This Sunday, January 20 at 4:00 pm, a concert entitled Winter Brilliance features pianist Spencer Myer in a performance of Rachmaninov’s riveting Piano Concerto No. 2. Also on the bill are works by Nielsen and Tchaikovsky, sure to delight away from the cold and crisp afternoon in the warmth of the Lensic.
Pianist Louis Lortie Goes to the Opera with the Santa Fe Concert Association
The weekend that just passed brought us the wonders of Jules Massenet’s comic opera, Cinderella, performed in the historic Scottish Rite Center, the former Masonic Temple of Santa Fe, thanks to the Santa Fe Concert Association. What a delightful adventure that was, and with three free performances at the Scottish Rite, and performances in the Santa Fe Public Schools for over 1200 3rd and 4th graders, once could say the Concert Association paid their New Year’s dues. But no, they are back again on January 24, when famed pianist Louis Lortie performs a concert of opera music at 7:30 pm in the St. Francis Auditorium. Their educational mission closes out the month of January at 7:30 pm on the 29th at the United Church of Christ as Executive Director Joseph Illick takes his audience inside the compelling story of Richard Wagner’s life in music.
Pianist Jan Lisiecki, Photo Santa Fe Pro Musica
Not to be outdone, Santa Fe’s beloved baroque ensemble, Santa Fe Pro Musica, celebrates a Winter Classic Weekend at the Lensic. On Friday, January 25 at 7:30 pm, Friday, Jan Lisiecki performs Frederic Chopin’s Etudes, Op. 10 & 25. The Classic Weekend continues on Saturday, January 26 at 6:00 pm and Sunday, January 27 at 3:00 pm, when the ensemble performs Beethoven’s Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, and the Haydn Symphony No. 101 in D Major, “Clock” Hob. I:101. and Mr. Lisiecki performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58. With the crisp, clean sounds of a seasoned ensemble, Santa Fe Pro Musica does itself proud.
Matisyahu: Photo by Natalie Zigdon www.matisyahuworld.com
For those whose musical tastes run to the more contemporary, Heath Concerts welcomes the one and only Matisyahu, the talented Hassidic Reggae singer, once a novelty but now a highly respected and inventive musician with a deeply spiritual outlook. This will be his first Santa Fe appearance, and this don’t-miss-it experience is a sure bet to sell out the Lensic, on January 31 at 7:30 pm.
Take time to enjoy some memorable music in Santa Fe!
We’re thinking holidays, how about you? Planning to travel to New Mexico in December? We are happy to offer some suggestions to make your Santa Fe holiday travel bright!
Here at the Inn on the Alameda, we welcome the arrival of the winter holiday season by lighting the Chanukah candles on Saturday, December 8 after sunset.
On Sunday, December 9, beginning at 3:00pm, Chabad Santa Fe invites everyone to attend a free Chanukah event on the Santa Fe Plaza, with a Community Menorah Lighting followed by a concert, featuring Jono Manson. And the Inn is also delighted to welcome any of our guests to light the candles in our Lobby on any of the eight nights of Chanukah.
Also on December 9, the annual holiday tradition of Las Posadas, a re-eanctment of the Holy Family’s search for shelter, takes place beginning at 5:30pm on the Plaza. This procession begins at the Palace pf the Governors and processes around the Plaza, and all are welcome to join. The devil makes an appearance to taunt the crowd, and booing ensues until an angel appears with a light sending blessings on those assembled. The walk concludes back at the Palace of the Governors, where biscochitos and hot cider are on tap.
Warming Up after Las Posadas
Thanks to the many wonderful museum gift shops and unique boutiques, Santa Fe has great options for picking up a holiday gift that cannot be duplicated. Each museum shop’s selection is curated around the individual museum’s mission, so you can find Native American treasures, Spanish heritage gifts, and folk art oddities. The Plaza area is a mecca for cowboy boots, souvenir potholders, velvet skirts, and of course, jewelry. And don’t worry, guys, there’s a cigar shop if you need to escape !
Case Trading Post at the Wheelwright Museum
Holiday music will be resounding through the City Different, known for its commitment to the musical performance. The Lensic has a roster of lyrical events to pick and choose from. Aaron Neville brings his sweet voice to Santa Fe with a Christmas concert on Monday, December 10 at 7:30pm. The Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus celebrates its birthday in music on Sunday, December 16 at 4:00pm. On Monday, December 17, the Santa Fe Concert Band, led by the inestimable Greg Heltman, offers its annual free concert at 7:00pm; this is your chance to carol! On December 24, at 5:00pm, the Santa Fe Concert Association welcomes an 11-year-old virtuoso pianist and composer, Emily Bear, to perform a Christmas Eve concert, also at the Lensic. And the musical year ends on New Year’s Eve with a performance by the Harlem String Quartet at 5:00pm.
Of course, the Lensic is not our only venue! Santa Fe Pro Musica will be ensconced in the Loretto Chapel for two performances nightly at 6:00pm and 8:00pm from Thursday, December 20 through Monday, December 24, presenting their annual Baroque Christmas Concert. On Saturday, December 29 at 6:00pm and Sunday, December 30 at 3:00pm, Pro Musica offers a Mozart Holiday Concert at the St. Francis Auditorium.
Our Beautiful Cathedral is Perfect for Carols
On December 14, 18, 20, 21 & 22, at 8:00pm, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale presents a concert of Carols and Lullabies in the perfect location for such music, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis. And on Sunday, December 15, the Chorale welcomes any and all to The Big Sing, a performance guaranteed to be the largest choir singing in New Mexico, taking place at 3:00pm at Cristo Rey Church. Not to be outdone, the 12-voice Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble performs A Winter Festival of Song on Saturday, December 14 at 7:00pm at the Loretto Chapel and Sunday, December 15 at 3:00pm at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel.
If you are staying in Santa Fe over the winter holidays, it’s a very good idea to have dinner reservations, and our concierge-trained staff is happy to recommend and reserve for you. We are here to answer all of your holiday questions, whether you are staying with us or not…just ask!
HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ALL OF US AT THE INN!
The One-of-a-Kind Santa Fe Opera
It’s been my great, good fortune to have seen the entire Santa Fe Opera season, and to my mind (recall that yours truly is an opera enthusiast not a music critic), Mr. McKay and company saved the best for last! The programming has been so thoughtful and creative, opening the summer season with the tried-and-true crowd pleasers, and then moving on to the more unusual offerings. Certainly an opera by a Polish composer sung in Polish by a Polish baritone qualifies as unusual. And more to the point, it’s stunning!
Crisis in the Court of King Roger; Photo by Ken Howard
Karol Szymanowski’s King Roger was so good that I had to see it twice and wouldn’t hesitate to see it yet again if the opportunity presents. Following the premiere of Rossini’s riveting Venetian drama Maometto II by a week, the opera is set in the same Byzantine era of Italy, this time in Sicily, and the casting was perfection. The incredibly rich voice of Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role anchored this unique offering with heft and clarity. The story line suited Santa Fe well, as it is a tale of the conflict between earthly duty and spiritual longing, a very City Different dilemna. Roger’s kingly realm is challenged by the appearance of The Shepherd, artfully sung and acted by tenor William Burden, who offers the kingdom a Dionysian life of carefree joy, ultimately leading away not only Roger’s subjects, but also his beloved queen.
A King and His Queen; Photo by Ken Howard
Erin Morley is vocally thrilling as Queen Roxana, believable in appearance and blessed with a beautiful voice. The role of Roger’s counselor, Edrisi, loyally committed to protecting his king, is clearly covered by Dennis Peterson. And I loved seeing Raymond Aceto, who is terrific as the villainous Scarpia in SFO’s current Tosca, appearing here as the Archbishop…nice switch from devilry to devotion! The orchestra? Just superb under the talented baton of Evan Rogister, who we hope will return to Santa Fe in seasons to come. While it’s puzzling indeed that this opera has languished through the years, we’re lucky and grateful that it came to the stage in Santa Fe!
Pomp and Circumstance; Photo by Ken Howard
The last entry on the Opera’s “dance card” is Richard Strauss’ Arabella, a thoughtful and welcome acknowledgement of founder John Crosby’s favorite composer. This was 2 1/2 hours of sublime music, not heard on the Santa Fe stage since 1997, and a treat for Strauss-lovers like me, who have had to wait since 2007 to hear that big complex orchestration. Although librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal passed away before he finished this poetic tale, leaving Strauss himself to hold it together, as the Opera’s General Director Charles MacKay told me, “The music is so luscious, I sometimes forget to look at the words.” The lively conducting of Sir Andrew Davis certainly made that happen to me!
Arabella and Mandryka; Photo by Ken Howard
The role of Arabella, marriage fodder for the financial hopes of her family, is sung by Erin Wall, last seen in Santa Fe as Strauss’ Daphne, and she unerringly handled the demands of a Strauss soprano. As Arabella’s successful suitor, the burly land baron Mandryka, Mark Delavan threw himself into the role, both vocally and dramatically. The Count and Countess Waldner, Arabella’s parents, are ably sung by Dale Travis and Victoria Livengood. And Brian Jagde, who bravely stepped into the role of Cavardossi in Tosca this summer at the last minute, sings the part he actually came for, that of Count Elemer, egotistically convinced that his wooing of Arabella is a fait accompli.
“Zdenko” Gets Her Man, Eventually; Photo by Ken Howard
Heidi Stober is touching and convincing in the pants role of Zdenka, Arabella’s sister who is forced by family misfortune – oh, the costs of “bringing out” a Viennese daughter – to live life as a boy, of course named Zdenko. In his SFO debut, Zach Borichevsky ardently sings the role of Matteo, Arabella’s youthful suitor, who accidentally wins the hand of the other sister, so obviously in love with him, suit and tie notwithstanding! Kiri Deonarine sings the intense role of Fiakermilli, quite a feat without any first act lines for warm up. Apprentices Suzanne Hendrix, Chrsitian Saunders, Jonathan Michie, Joseph Beuatel, Ryan Milstead, Matthew Newlin and Edwin Vega fill out the cast with verve.
Give Yourself this Joy of Opera; Photo by Ken Howard
Every one of my opera experiences this summer left me wide-eyed, and I have to agree with Arabella herself who sang, “I lie awake, unable to sleep for sheer happiness.” Give yourself that gift, and see one of these five terrific productions. Or better yet, if you can, see them all!
For lovers of art and heritage, the upcoming weekend promises many delights, as the 61st annual Santa Fe Spanish Market swings into the Plaza. With 183 artists in the Market, and an additional 52 youth artists exhibiting their work, this is an artistic and familial legacy that continues to grow in size and quality.
Spanish Market on the Santa Fe Plaza
Taking place on the historic Plaza, on Saturday and Sunday, July 28 and 29, from 8:30 am to 5 pm, the Market offers something for everyone, from straw applique to retablos to engraving to weaving and calaveras, too. If we’re lucky, we might even see some of that beautiful and increasingly rare colcha embroidery!
Calaveras con Corazon
And if your taste runs more to the cutting edge, the Contemporary Hispanic Market runs concurrently, spread along both sides of Lincoln Avenue, with 134 booths of art and artistry to peruse or purchase.
There will be food, of course, since it’s Santa Fe, and among other tasty events, there’s a cooking class with John Vollertsen, “Spanish Influence on New Mexico’s Norteno Cooking,” at Las Cosas on July 26 at 10 am. And if you just can’t make time for that class, don’t forget that the Inn offers a Muy Sabrosa Cooking Experience with the experts from the Santa Fe School of Cooking, soon to be fully ensconced in their new location.
La Comida Muy Sabrosa!
Also on July 26, John Schaefer lectures on “Collecting Spanish Colonial Art” at Peyton Wright Gallery at 4:30 pm. On Friday July 27, at 9:30 am, Patina Gallery hosts a breakfast reception and lecture on the work of Enric Majoral. On Friday evening, a Market Preview opens at the Santa Fe Convention Center at 7 pm.
Listen for “la musica,” not only during the Saturday-Sunday Market itself. On Thursday, July 26, the Santa Fe Bandstand series gets into the act with homegrown favorites, Andy Primm and Alex Maryol, performing on the Plaza from 6 to 9 pm. Performances by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival take place in St. Francis Auditorium on Thursday, July 26 at noon and 6 pm, Friday, July 27 at 6 pm, Saturday, July 27 at 6 pm, and Sunday, July 28 at 5 pm. The Santa Fe Desert Chorale offers a concert, “Celebrating the Centenery,” at 8 pm on Saturday, July 28 at the New Mexico History Museum. The Santa Fe Opera serves up Giaochino Rossini’s Maometto II on Friday the 27th at 8:30 pm, and on Saturday the 28th, also at 8:30 pm, the premiere of Richard Strauss’ Arabella rounds out the season’s repertoire.
It looks like it will be a great weekend…will we see you there?