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!