Valentine’s Day was the right moment for talking about sweets, but anytime is the right time for listening to sweet music. For Santa Fe Opera lovers, a visit to a great opera city like New York can stave off the yearning until our own summer season begins again, especially since a year is a long time to wait between Santa Fe Opera seasons.
As I am always ready for some glorious singing to carry in my heart until Santa Fe’s summer opera season begins, the last chapter of an exciting January excursion to New York delivered the antidote to cure my opera jones. While a previous commitment prevented me from hearing tenor Placido Domingo turn baritone to sing Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at the Met on my first night in town, it was my good fortune that this esteemed artist was in the pit at Lincoln Center to conduct Verdi’s Stiffelio. For those who may not have the luck to hear his mellifluous tones, the good news is that Sr. Domingo is a musician who takes every opportunity to expand, with conducting being just one part of his estimable career.
And so, in the company of a generous friend, I found myself in row P, the chandelier going up, the house lights going down, and excitement rising with the curtain. Stiffelio is a rarely-performed early work of Verdi’s that was new to me, but it was no surprise to find it on the playbill, since the huge repertoire of the Met is always a wonder. As a friend’s mother says, “There’s only one opera, and it’s Italian,” so true for me that night.
Although the overall story line was somewhat traditional, that of love betrayed, the betrayed character Stiffelio being a married Protestant minister seemed quite unusual, especially in an Italian opera where one would perhaps expect an a monk or priest. And the 200-year-old libretto had words that are still timely today, “Greed has destroyed integrity, and deceit has replaced justice.” Wow, humankind, the wheel turns and turns again. It was classic Verdi all the way, not just the music or libretto, but the production itself, going straight for the drama and the gorgeous voices, without the challenge of unusual staging, costumes or concept.
Not that I mind a challenge at all; I am looking forward to Lewis Spratlan’s Life is a Dream, the winner of a 2000 Pulitzer Prize in Music, just as much as I am relishing the chance to hear Puccini’s beautiful Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, both part of the upcoming summer season in Santa Fe. Benjamin Britten also returns this year, in a new production of his opera Albert Herring, with a country village setting that will have a beautiful summer New Mexico evening to add real outdoor ambiance. While we don’t have Bartlett Sher directing our Offenbach like the Met did, we do still have our own Tales of Hoffman this summer in Santa Fe. And of course, perennial favorite Mozart returns to Santa Fe as The Magic Flute brings the the bird-catcher, the princess, and the Queen of the Night with her crystal-cracking high notes!
For now, I only have to make it until opening night in Santa Fe on July 2, but I’ll have to find a way to conjure up more reasons to be in New York next year, so I can park myself in Lincoln Center nightly. Adios, Big Apple!
Santa Fe Opera Photography by Ken Howard