My First Opera

My First Opera

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.

 

santa-fe-opera-interior

What I remember most from my first opera was the setting.

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.

Book your room for any Opera showing now ~ receive a Split of Champagne & 2 slices of Opera cake to enjoy!

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.

Book your room for any Opera showing now ~ receive a Split of Champagne & 2 slices of Opera cake to enjoy!

Jews of New Mexico

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

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

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

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.

Joe’s Blog: The Santa Fe Opera

Nestled in the mountains of New Mexico, the Santa Fe Opera theater has captivated visitors for years with its brilliant architecture, state of the art productions, and an unrivaled natural backdrop.

Photo Cred: Ken Howard

Photo Cred: Ken Howard

This vibrant cultural institution is an integral part of any visit dedicated to understanding the local arts scene, and the history of the structure itself provides a fascinating context for the thousands that visit the Opera theater today.

 

One cannot even imagine the Santa Fe Opera theater without thinking of John Crosby, a young New York composer who was the Opera’s founder and the General Director for 33 years. John Crosby erected the Sante Fe Opera theater in 1956, and laid the foundations of present day Santa Fe to become one of the premier artistic centers of the world.

 

With the help of John Crosby’s Manhattan-based parents, he purchased the San Juan Ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe to pursue his dream of an outdoor summer opera company that could employ the many Metropolitan Opera performers during their summer off-season.

With the help of an acoustician, he meticulously walked the beautiful ranch, firing gunshots until they located a perfect acoustical bowl for the construction of the first opera theater, which opened in July 1957.

 

This modest theater consisted of a compact open-air stage with simple wood benches to accommodate an audience of less than 500. Although the structure was petite, Mr. Crosby unveiled the new venue with a grand performance of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly – a tradition he continued with the grand openings of two subsequent theaters. As the 50’s passed into the 60’s and beyond, many generous opera patrons provided the funding for the theater’s continual growth.

Photo Cred: Ken Howard

Photo Cred: Ken Howard

The Santa Fe Opera grew in worldwide recognition, and both the demand for greater capacity and protection from the summer monsoons made it clear that a larger, more structurally sound theater was necessary for the orchestra, performers and patrons.

John McHugh, a student of John Gaw Meem, designed an arching theater roof that would hover over an auditorium that tripled the seating capacity. Tragically, the theater burned to the ground mid-season of 1967, with the performances subsequently moving to a downtown Santa Fe high school gymnasium for the remainder of the season, and the sets and costumes borrowed from around the country. With the fundraising help of Mr. Crosby’s close friend, Igor Stravinsky, the theater re-opened for the 1968 season.

Finally, almost 30 years later, to meet ADA requirements and to complete the covering of the open-air roof from the elements, Polshek and Associates designed the present magnificent Crosby Theatre, which seats 2,234.

What a fascinating history – one that has touched thousands of visitors and locals alike.

 

It is always a lifetime memory to come to Santa Fe for the summer opera season, and truly, there is no better place to stay than at the Inn on the Alameda, situated on Alameda Street across from the beautiful cottonwood shaded Santa Fe River, which meanders through the historic downtown.

 

The Inn on the Alameda is the closest hotel to both the river and to Canyon Road, our world-renown arts and crafts district. Stay with us and enjoy the short walk from our central location to exquisite shopping, and visit the many galleries and museums peppered throughout town. Then in the early evening, take a “box lunch” prepared in advance by our chef at Agoyo Lounge to picnic on the stunning opera grounds before the evening’s performance. Or join many other operagoers for the traditional (and always entertaining) pre-performance “tail gate” party in the parking lot of the Santa Fe Opera theater. Better yet, join us on the outdoor Agoyo Lounge patio for an early evening dinner and cocktails before heading out for the opera.

We at the Inn will always help in any way to make your stay with us the best possible experience, opera season or not.

Photo Cred: Ken Howard

Photo Cred: Ken Howard

 

Santa Fe Opera Season Success

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!

Spanish Market Santa Fe

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?

Santa Fe Opera Premieres

July is the month for Santa Fe Opera premieres! This past weekend brought the riveting and seldom-seen drama, Maometto II, composed by Giaochino Rossini, better known to opera audiences for his comic operas. Coming this weekend is King Roger, by Karol Szymanowski, and the last premiere, Richard Strauss’ Arabella debuts in the last week of July.

The Santa Fe Opera Theater

The story of Maometto II concerns the attempted conquest of Italy by the Turks, and the action takes place in the Venetian city of Negroponte, during a siege. The commander of the city, Paolo Erisso, is challenged to save both his populace and his daughter, Anna. Little does he know that Anna has fallen in love with the Turk, Maometto, who met her while disguised as an Italian. When she realizes exactly who her lover is, she chooses kin and country, losing her life in the process. To put flesh to the bones of this story, some truly tour-de-force singing takes place over the course of two vocally punishing 90-minute acts.

Anna and Maometto II; photo by Ken Howard

The role of Maometto is impressively sung by bass-baritone, Luca Pisaroni, who physically and emotionally embodies the character with skill. He sounds great and looks great in equal measure, and it’s not often that you have the opportunity to hear a low voice doing such vocal calisthenics. Leah Crocetto’s liquid singing brings both passion and pathos to the role of Anna; she’s young and believable, and wow, can she sing! We look forward to hearing both of these artists perform in the Santa Fe Concert Association’s Festival of Song, Leah Crocetto on July 22 and Luca Pisaroni on August 5. Anna’s father, Erisso, is ably and nobly sung by tenor Brian Sledge, and the pants-role of his general, Calbo, is brought to life by mezzo-soprano, Patricia Bardon, pouring her whole heart and voice into the role.

Venetians Under Siege: Calbo, Anna and Erisso; photo by Ken Howard

The scenic and costume designs by Jon Morrell were striking, and the lovely contrast of the noblewomen’s jewel-toned gowns to the stark white backdrop were evocatively lit by a  favorite Santa Fe Opera regular, Duane Schuler. Director David Alden moved the principals, chorus and dancers to measured and thoughtful effect. Music Director Frederic Chaslin led a lively orchestra, and the sustained pace kept this listener (who is NOT a music critic, just a diehard opera enthusiast) from sensing the actual length of each act.

A Terrific Chorus Too; photo by Ken Howard

We are loving the new start times, 8:30pm in July and 8:00pm in August. They do not detract at all from the action, and in fact, with the right staging, the backdrop of the New Mexico sky is a glorious addition. Keep in mind that some summer evenings can be cool and rainy, so bring that pretty shawl to stay warm.

The New Mexico Sky Plays Its Part

The Opera shuttle picks up right at the Inn’s doorstep, and with five new productions, this is a Santa Fe Opera season to cherish. We’ll be there to see each and every production, multiple times, we hope!

BOOK NOW