Sunday, September 9, 2012

Opera, Southwestern Style.

The Santa Fe Opera is a unique and world-class opera house and company. Its season is summer-only, due to its breathtaking open-air venue:

The House, with its sleek and simple lines, was quite the contrast to the ornate velvet-marble-and-gold of the other venues I've visited. I appreciate both styles, but there's something incredibly special about breathing fresh air and watching such a beautiful art form against the backdrop of the high desert mountains and setting sun.

I determined before I moved that if I had to, I'd see an opera here alone. However, thanks to a very handy social networking tool, I found new postdoc friends for two operas, Maometto II and Tosca!

We were surrounded by gorgeous scenery:
(Maometto II)


For both operas, my groups participated in the long-standing Santa Fe Opera tradition of tailgating in the parking lot an hour or two before the performance. This is not your college football game's tailgating. Replace beer with wine, hot dogs with tortellini, red solo cups with...clear plastic cups...and...okay, I never tailgated in college. Not really sure what else is usually there.

Nonetheless, we had some truly fantastic spreads. Tosca's involved wine, pasta, an array of appetizers, salads, and cookies. We did not go hungry.

Maometto II's classy spread:

We had SHRIMP.

Intermission Anecdotes: the first evening, I braved the bar line for the traditional overpriced glass of champagne. The next evening, I braved the gift shop. Pro tip: go for the refreshments, not the souvenirs. The bar line was much less-scarily populated than the gift shop. Barely made it out of there alive. Calm down, classy opera patrons! Is that mug really so important to you?

On to short reviews!

Maometto II: Beautiful and Tragic Star-crossed Lovebirds

The weather was New Mexican perfect: clear and warm until the sun set, when it was just cool enough to make the packed house comfortable. We heard the balcony was super hot, but main floor? We were fiiine.

The set was fairly minimalist and muted most of the time...

...though there were some super cool effects in some scenes, like a big red wall that represented Maometto's tent, not seen terribly well in this picture, but I can't find a better one:

Short synopsis: "The opera is set in the historical context of the fall of the Venetian colony of Negroponte to the Turks in 1476. The Venetian governor Paolo Erisso intends his daughter Anna to marry Calbo, but she loves Uberto, whom she had met in Corinth. Uberto turns out to be Maometto II in disguise. Anna suffers a conflict between duty and love, choosing the former in marriage to Calbo and final death by her own hand as the Turkish forces storm Negroponte." source

While the whole cast sang beautifully, Anna and Maometto were incredible. Chill-givingly gorgeous, particularly Anna's strong and mournful songs when she realizes that her beloved is the invader of her country and plans to kill her father, when she decides whether to run away with him or stay and marry someone else, and then when she kills herself.

Maometto was GORGEOUS. (Anna was, too.)

Maometto II was the perfect introduction to the Santa Fe Opera. I was hooked.

Tosca: Beautiful and Tragic...Star-crossed...Lovebirds...wait a second...

A thunderstorm rolled in just as we finished our dinner and packed up the cars. We ran, in our finery and heels, into...the open-air theater. Our seats in the back of the main floor were completely shielded from the sideways rain, but the orchestra section was soaked. It poured up until five or ten minutes before the start time, when an army of ushers attacked the sopping seats with towels. Everyone was safely seated, if a little bedraggled, in time for the show to go on.

Now, immediately upon entering, I noticed the Stargate:

Am I right? Even an usher agreed with my involuntary exclamation of surprised delight! The set was intriguing throughout the performance. It may be my favorite ever. (Like, ever.)

The Stargate was actually an abstract view of the inside of a cathedral, looking straight into the ceiling. The actors walked all over an in-progress painting of the Madonna:

In later scenes, we're outside the cathedral:

It was mind-blowing.

So you see a couple of tragic operas and you start to realize that they have the same basic story elements. Gorgeous and innocent (or strong and worldly) girl loves handsome and innocent (or bad yet redeemable) boy, something terrible happens involving parents/police/armies/consumption, and most people (especially our heroine and hero) die in the end, after singing brilliantly for a few hours. Tosca's twist on the standard involves a vividly evil crooked chief of police, a murder/self-defense killing, hope, trickery, and a truly dramatic ending that brought me to tears. I was that invested. Excellent job, Puccini and SFO.

Here's the synopsis.

I'm already psyched for next season, and waiting for the perfect time to buy tickets (after couch and bed buying). If you're a New Mexican opera lover (particularly one who already knows me) or an out-of-state friend who wants to visit, contact me and let's plan some Cultural Outings 2013!


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