The Santa Fe Opera, 7 miles north of Santa Fe on Highway 84/285
“I have longed for the sound of your voice.” So sings Nadir in Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. And that’s an apt reflection of my feelings as I pine for la bella voce each year, waiting for the Santa Fe Opera season to begin.
This season is notable for bringing five, yes, five, new productions to opera lovers. The internet “tells” me that 5 is the number representing divine grace, and there’s a blessed synchronicity in that thought for this, the Santa Fe Opera’s 55th season. Three of the productions are new to the company, Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers; King Roger, composed by Karol Szymanowski and first performed in 1926; and Giacomo Rossini’s Maometto II, written in 1820 but performed this summer in a new edition prepared by Dutch scholar, Hans Schellevis. The repertory is rounded out with Giacomo Puccini’s riveting Tosca, not seen here since 1994, and, in a nod to founder John Crosby’s favorite composer, Richard Strauss, a new production of Arabella, last performed in Santa Fe in 1997.
Good fortune gave me the opportunity to hear Tosca and The Pearl Fishers last week, and although I was familiar with the music from both, I had never seen either in performance. It doesn’t take much expertise to predict that these will both be big hits for the company this summer.
Tosca, with SFO Music Director Fredric Chaslin in the pit, offers a big dose of drama, along with Puccini’s always-memorable arias. And there’s an exciting back story this year, too! One week before opening, tenor Andrew Richards who was to have sung the critical role of Cavaradossi, was forced to withdraw due to severe allergies. While we regret his misfortune, the flurry around a last-minute replacement never fails to excite. Brian Jagde, who already had prepared to sing the part at the San Francisco Opera in the fall stepped up to the SFO stage in admirable fashion and acquitted himself commendably with a rich, full tone and youthful ardor. Congratulations to him for his stamina and willingness to add this to his previously-scheduled role in Arabella in later in the season! Floria Tosca is sung by Amanda Echalaz, who did not hold back at all in a passionate portrait of a diva who has “lived for art… lived for love.” We can always count on Italian opera for a hard-bitten villain, and Scarpia, as sung by the baritone Raymond Aceto, did not disappoint, with leers aplenty complementing his liquid voice. Puccini’s scoundrels always act so bad, but sound so good! Noted baritone Thomas Hampson returns to sing Scarpia for the last performances in August, after a long absence from Santa Fe.
Also just opened is Georges Bizet’s luscious The Pearl Fishers, luminous in every aspect. A first for SFO, this early work from Bizet, while not as complex as his Carmen, is full of memorable melodies and is energetically conducted by Emmanuel Villaume. The story begins as two old friends reunite, vowing to stay loyal despite their prior passion for the same woman, who, you guessed it, shows up again, this time as a temple vestal whose virginity protects the pearl-diving community. With its exotic setting in Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka), this opera has Brahma for its divinity, but in typically operatic fashion, there’s a love story at its core. The maiden in question is the strikingly well-cast Nicole Cabell, whose liquid soprano has beautiful tone and control, and who embodies both the sworn temple guardian and the sensuous woman in love. Her paramour Nadir is portrayed by Eric Cutler, fortunate indeed to have some really gorgeous tenor lines with which to demonstrate his ability. And in the role of Zurga, his friend and rival, baritone Christopher Magiera masterfully shows both jealous rage and compassionate forgiveness in equal measures.
What’s next? Maometto II, also conducted by Frederic Chaslin, premieres on Saturday, July 14 at 8:30, with bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni in the title role. King Roger, directed by the highly-regarded Stephen Wadsworth and conducted by Evan Rogister, opens on Saturday, July 21, also at 8:30pm, with the terrific Polish baritone, Maruisz Kwiecien taking the lead in his native tongue. And Strauss’ Arabella, opening on Saturday, July 28 at 8:30 pm welcomes Erin Wall back to the Santa Fe stage as Arabella, with the orchestra led by Sir Andrew Davis.
And don’t forget that you can go early, beat the parking crush, and enjoy a tailgate picnic like so many do, although the picnic tables are for the really early arrivals…everyone else, bring furniture!
Another hit season has begun, so don’t wait too long to get your tickets,and the Opera Shuttle will pick you up right here at the Inn! And byt the way, the new earlier start times – 8:30pm in July and 8:00pm in August – are great! This opera fan (never posing as a music critic, mind you) is thrilled to be back up on the hill, watching the sun go down and the stage lights come up!