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!”
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.
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.
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
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
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
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!