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.

 

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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!

Santa Fe Farmer’s Market

Santa Fe Farmer’s Market

Our region of the country is blessed with a bountiful variety of flavorful foods – and the Santa Fe Farmers Market provides the ideal showcase for all manner of fresh vegetables, fruits, and tasty treats on Saturdays year-round and on Tuesdays May 2nd to November 20th.

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Voted one of the “Top Ten Farmers’ Markets” by Sunset Magazine, the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market is one of the oldest, largest, and most successful growers’ markets in the country.

Serving more than 150 farmers and producers in 15 Northern New Mexico counties, the Market brings fresh food, education, and fun to our community and promotes small farms and sustainable agriculture in Northern New Mexico. With specialty shops, local crafts and ad hoc performances this farmers market has provided family-friendly fun for nearly everyone since 1968!

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Hungry for something to do mid-week? In addition to the freshest produce around, the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market will host fun family activities, provide multiple farm-fresh dinner options, and offer a diverse array of programming from Joe Hayes (author and storyteller) to Wise Fool New Mexico (circus entertainment.) And, we are proudly partnering with multiple businesses in the Railyard (including Blue Rain GalleryEVOKE Contemporary and Tai Modern galleries; Second Street Brewery and other restaurants; and the Violet Crown) to bring you the weekly “Wednesday Eve @ The Railyard” event series. July 4th through September 26th, 3pm-6pm.

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The Food

There is nothing like the taste of fresh locally grown produce. The Santa Fe Farmers Market features produce native to the region for locals and visitors to sample – and take home. The Saturday market is open year-round and features the widest variety of foods. The Tuesday market is open from 8am to 1pm daily from May 2 to Nov. 20. Along with farm fresh fruits and vegetables, the market features festive music and tasty burritos. Yum! Market, open from June 21 to Sept. 27, caters to the summertime after-work crowd. Hours are from 3-7 p.m.

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Mark your calendars for several visits to the Santa Fe Farmers Market this year. And afterwards, relax at the Inn on the Alameda for a drink – or for the night!

Santa Fe, Frozen in Time

Santa Fe, Frozen in Time   I arrived in Santa Fe early on May 23, 1971. I remember it like it was yesterday. I drove in from Las Vegas, NM, where I had toured Highlands University for a NM State teacher’s credential. At the time, I knew that I wanted to...

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Joe’s Blog: ZOZOBRA: OLD MAN GLOOM

 

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As with most historical ceremonies held by Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the US, the tradition of the burning of this 50-foot tall effigy is linked to Spanish traditions, such as Fiestas, a celebration originally conceived in 1712 commemorating the peaceful re-conquest of Santa Fe by Don Diego de Vargas in 1692. Fiestas is both a civic and religious experience, lasting several days over a weekend in late summer, that includes the Children’s Pet Parade, which is not to be missed, as families decorate every imaginable pet from snakes to burros for a parade around the Plaza. Also a Hysterical/Historical Parade, poking fun at the town’s hysteria over its history. There is also an historically accurate and lavishly costumed re-enactment of the Entrada when Don Diego de Vargas returned to Santa Fe carrying the statue of La Madonna, which the fleeing Spanish had taken with them in 1680 at the outbreak of the Pueblo Revolt. As with most Santa Fe celebrations, there are food booths, an arts and crafts fair, dancing and a general sense of “fiesta” throughout the town with everyone yelling “Que Viva!” This is an abbreviated two-word phrase, meaning: “Long live Fiesta!”

reportingtexas.com

image from reportingtexas.com

In the midst of all of the fiesta splendor, there is one less cheerful event – a celebration of a darker sort: The Burning of Zozobra: Old Man Gloom.

 

In 1924, two of Santa Fe’s original Cinco Pintores (5 painters), conceived the idea of creating the opportunity for people to annually dispose of their worries and woes. Santa Feans, Gustauve Baumann and Will Shuster created the concept and subsequent tradition of the public burning of a 50-foot paper mache effigy of an old man by the name of Zozobra. Zozobra is Spanish for anxiety and people are encouraged to write down their sorrows, bad memories, general woes and even legal papers that they wish to see go up in smoke. A “sorrows” box is placed at the base of Zozobra into which, during the day of burning, people can drop their notes and documents as fodder for the grandest and most attended bonfire of the year.

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This giant old man gloom is built with hidden speakers, arms that mechanically wave, eyes that creepily dart from side to side, and even jaws that move. As the final hours before the burning of Old Man Gloom wind down, up to 50,000 people – young and old – fill Fort Marcy Park in excited anticipation of the lighting and burning of Zozobra. First everyone waits for dusk…then dancers appear taunting and gyrating at the old man’s base as thick, black smoke begins to slowly rise. Then the air is permeated with groans and moans, coming from the gut of Zozobra himself…People are yelling “Burn Him!” and hooting and hollering in anticipation of the final act of destruction of this Old Man Gloom. The excitement is electric and everyone is swept up into the contagious thrill of this amazing tradition. Many people’s memories go back to their earliest childhood years and the roar of pleasure when the flames finally burst up through the middle of the effigy is deafening!

This event is always worth the effort. Go early; bring folding chairs and beverages and snacks (no alcohol can be legally allowed inside the park for everyone’s safety). Spread out your blankets and bring the family, as this is traditionally a very family friendly evening. Zozobra is just one of the many events in our hometown that makes us the City Different and this is a weekend to attend at least several times in your life.

We hope you stop by the Inn on the Alameda and join us for a drink and toast to the burning of Zozobra and the disbursement of all our sorrows into the smoke filled heavens.

Joe’s Blog: A Santa Fe 4th of July

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Many flags have flown over Santa Fe from long before the first celebration of the 4th of July. New Mexico would not become any legal part of the United States until 1848 following the Mexican-American War. So the first 4th of July celebration was most likely observed when New Mexico entered the Union as a Territory (no elected representation in Washington), which she remained until gaining Statehood in 1912. Prior to this, there was a rich tradition of religious and civic festivals such as the Santa Fe Fiesta and the various Catholic saint days that made up an important part of colonial life.

In the United States, the original 13 colonies created most of the national celebrations, while religious observances handled the others. While the Congress passed a Resolution of Independence from England on July 2, 1776, it was not until 2 days later that the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence – on July 4th. In the following year in Rhode Island, the 4th was saluted with the firing of 13 guns representing the 13 original colonies.

This most certainly was the beginning of a tradition of firework displays in all communities and backyards throughout the nation.

Pancakes on the Plaza - image from santafe.com

Pancakes on the Plaza – image from santafe.com

To talk about the 4th of July today on the Plaza is easy because so many community events are all occurring at the same time, making a visit more than ordinary. What could be as American as Enchiladas and standing next to the exact spot on the Plaza where the Santa Fe Trail ended, heralding the opening of the vast Western half of the country? The most exciting event going on is standing in long lines at the United Way pancake breakfast, staffed by countless volunteers serving sausages and pancakes, with all proceeds going to the United Way of Santa Fe.

Speaking from my own experience, the 4th of July is truly the day for locals to bump into people they might not have seen in 35 years. This democratic coming together of the citizens to celebrate their day of political and religious freedom underscores the “Spirit of 1776.” After eating and feeling good from a full belly of pancakes, and with the knowledge your breakfast has contributed to the United Way, stop to see the vintage car exhibition on streets next to the Plaza. Talk to the proud restorers and owners about their vehicles’ histories and ask any question imaginable about the make and model of their particular vintage automobile. Not into old cars? There is an Arts and Crafts show as well as a silent auction. Did I forget the dancing, singing, and music from the bandstand? And there’s other food choices as well.

But the best memories of the 4th are the fireworks…sparklers and roman candles, firecrackers, rocketing displays of color throughout the nation’s skies! However, there can be no fireworks on the Plaza these days due to extreme drought conditions in the West. But if you cannot survive the withdrawal, there is still a City sponsored night display at the high school’s football field. But remember, while the firing of the 13 cannons mark this day, any conscientious citizen owes it to himself and nation to contemplate the meaning of this day of independence and what it represents. We embraced the spirit of the Enlightenment and freed ourselves from the chains of monarchy and foreign rule, embarking upon the most unique voyage of religious, political and civic freedoms the world has seen.

So, to set the tone for this contemplation, have a quiet and relaxing dinner at the Agoyo Lounge at the Inn of the Alameda and toast our Founding Fathers and the commitment and bravery they exemplified.

Happy 4th of July!

image from http://www.iceflowstudios.com/

image from http://www.iceflowstudios.com/

 

 

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!

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