Santa Fe Opera Season Report by Carol King

The Santa Fe Opera house is in the mountains north of the city, and making the scenic drive up there a wonderful beginning of the evening.  The theater has  no curtain, no flies and very limited space on the sides of the stage.  The stage is also open  at the back, enabling the audience to view  the wonderful sunsets and the lights of Los Alamos on a distant ridge.  Thus, all scene changes are done in full view audience. Sometimes you are not even aware of the changes, but other times it is a distraction, as with The Letter.

The Letter

This world premier was eagerly awaited by our Elderhostel group, and we were not disappointed.  Patricia Racette, for whom the role of Leslie was written, was superb in it, and she was supported by a strong cast  including Anthony Michaels-Moore as her husband Robert. James Maddalena as the lawyer Joyce,  and Roger Honeywell as her lover Geoff Hammond.

There were eight scenes, thus seven scene changes accompanied by brief musical interludes.  Unfortunately, these were lost many of us, being engaged in watching the scene changes.  I would like to hear this music again, without the distractions. I think with any new opera, there are so many dimensions to take in all at once, that you mainly concentrate on the plot line and need to hear the music multiple times to really take it all in.

The story line is taut and moves right along.  You really get the sense of the white woman’s isolation in this jungle, but, although  Leslie has an aria of regret in the last scene,  it does not make her a  sympathetic character.  At the end, she commits suicide, with table cloth flying and dishes hitting the floor (a stage business that has been done before).  Many of the group thought this was a weak ending — while she had expressed regret, you  did not get the sense that she was suicidal. Other scenes were right-on: the clubmen condemning the “rotter” whom she killed, the jail scene in which the lawyer Joyce confronts Leslie with her lie and she relives what really happened, Joyce’s meetings with Robert and with the Chinese woman, and the trial in which she imagines the jury foreman is her dead lover.


This production is Natalie Dessay’s first Traviata, and was greatly anticipated.  When she entered with a shriek, carried on the shoulders of two burly choristers, we knew this would not be an ordinary Traviata.  Dessay’s Violetta was a tramp, in a shocking pink knee-high go-go boots and matching poufy gown slit to the waist, revealing black panties underneath.  No refined, accomplished  courtesan here! She was especially stunning in the last scene when she sang the last part of her dying aria in a fetal position.

I did not like this production. The Germonts, and Annina were costumed in mid 19th century dress, the chorus of partygoers somewhat 1920’s, and Violetta in casual black pants and white shirt for the garden scene, and rather trampy ball gowns for the two parties. The stage was filled with large boxes of various sizes, which forced the singers to hop and dance from one to another. I was afraid Dessay would fall and break her neck!  A rather moth-eaten little green set was trundled in from the right for the country scene, but Germont had to enter and sing some of his arias from the boxes on the left.  Germont, by the way, was superbly sung by Laurent Naouri who is Natalie Dessay’s real life husband.  I wish he performed more in this country.  Alfredo was well sung and acted by Saimir Pirgu, a young Albanian tenor.

 Elixir of Love

Adina was sung by Jennifer Black, and her Nemorino by Dimitri Pittas, both former Santa Fe apprentices who have gone on to bigger things, including  the Metropolitan Opera. They were both superb and we will no doubt be hearing more from them. 

 The production was delightful  — updated to the late 1940’s. Adina was village school teacher and owner of an olive oil business, Nemorino an auto mechanic with a smashing little red sports car that he kept working on.  Sgt Belcore was in the American army and arrived in a dusty beat up jeep, and Dulcamara was a snake oil peddler on the lam from the police.


Christine Brewer sang the demanding title role in this infrequently played opera by Gluck. Paul Groves was her husband, King Admete. Ms Brewer sang much of her role seated, perhaps due to a bad knee, but it fit her character as a grieving, distressed queen. The excellent Santa Fe chorus and dancers enlivened this rather static opera, but at times they overshadowed the principles.  The production was strange, with dancers looking like they belonged in a Balinese temple, and the gods proclaiming from a weird –looking cosmic egg.

Don Giovanni

An interesting production — all red, including several trees. Donna Anna first appeared in a red nightgown,  chasing and hounding Giovanni.  Presumably this time, he had succeeded with her.  However, the production worked.  An excellent young cast of recent Santa Fe apprentices.  One that particular that I liked was Kate Lindsey as Zerlina.