If it’s August, it must be time for the Santa Fe Opera

We're out in Santa Fe New Mexico for a week of opera. Notable 2015 events include the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon's "Cold Mountain," based on the well-known novel.

Santa Fe Opera.
Santa Fe Opera complex at sunset. 2015 photo by Peter Ogilve, courtesy of Santa Fe Opera.

SANTA FE, N.M., July 30, 2015 – We’re coming to you from New Mexico for the next two weeks instead of our usual dateline, Washington, D.C. In a welcome respite from the dismal political goings-on in the nation’s capital, we’ve come to not-quite-sunny capital city of New Mexico to cover a week of productions by the uniquely different Santa Fe Opera (SFO) Company.

Isabel Leonard as Cinderella.
Isabel Leonard sings a lovely Cinderella in the Washington National Opera production of “Cinderella.” (Credit: Scott Suchman)

Notably, this season’s five productions include the world premiere Saturday of Jennifer Higdon’s new opera, “Cold Mountain,” featuring Met star baritone Nathan Gunn in the lead role of W. P. Inman, and mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, whose performance as Angelina we thoroughly enjoyed in May in the Washington National Opera’s production of Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” (“Cinderella”).

Based on Charles Frazier’s highly-regarded eponymous novel, “Cold Mountain” is an epic story of war, tragedy, heroism, villainy and, of course, a love that will not die. Sounds like great opera material to us.

Tomorrow’s opening night performance of “Cold Mountain” has been eagerly anticipated here. Yet its Santa Fe debut is not exactly an unusual event for this unique place, an acoustically marvelous, high desert hilltop venue. Its striking exterior seems about to sail for the towering mountains that serve as its distant visual backdrop.

SFO consistently punches above its weight in the world of opera, weighing in with first-rate singers, innovative but not outrageous stagings of old favorites and a surprising number of world premieres, the latest of which is “Cold Mountain.”

We’ll be reviewing all five of this season’s offering over the next week. Remaining operas include the teenage Mozart’s infrequently performed but still delightful “La finta giardiniera” (roughly, “The phony gardener”), which we saw Wednesday evening; a new production of Richard Strauss’ still scandalous one-act shocker, “Salome” Friday evening; and a pair of old favorites, Donizetti’s utterly charming comic opera “La Fille du Regiment” (“The Daughter of the Regiment”) and Verdi’s tragic opera, “Rigoletto,” both of which we’ll attend early next week.

We’ll start posting our reviews this weekend, so stay tuned. When we’re not attending operas, we’ll also be visiting some interesting sights both here and, later, in southern New Mexico, where we’ll be visiting with old friends after we depart Santa Fe.

Washington Redskins fans, step aside. Popular pre-opera tailgate parties at Santa Fe Opera are have better food, and ticketholders almost always win. 2011 photo by Kate Russell for Santa Fe Opera.
Washington Redskins fans, step aside. Popular pre-opera tailgate parties at Santa Fe Opera are have better food, and ticketholders almost always win. (2011 photo by Kate Russell for Santa Fe Opera.)

BTW, we mentioned “not so sunny” Santa Fe in our opening remarks. As we’ve learned over the years, the months of July and August seem to be the epicenter of New Mexico’s “monsoon season,” a time when spectacular thunderstorms and astonishingly huge accompanying downpours provide this area with the bulk of its otherwise meager rainfall. The lightning pyrotechnics and downfalls often start in late afternoons and early evenings, meaning that many mornings and early afternoons are delightfully bright and sunny.

Even with those monsoonal rains, the desert climate still tends to be warm, dry and refreshing and not quite so hot as first-time visitors might imagine. Often, when attending the opera in the evening, you have to swap lighter outerware for something more substantial, perhaps even a light sweater in addition to your faithful summer jacket. A light blanket also works.

It can get a bit windy and brisk here, too, with temperatures falling into the 50s almost as soon as the sun (if it’s shining) drops below the horizon. But the weather here really doesn’t bother us in the least. Quite the contrary. The notable temperature variations and the overall dryness of the northern New Mexico climate are, at least for this writer, features, not bugs, and a much-welcome antidote to Washington’s sticky, subtropical summers.

Add in five operas, a colorful and historic downtown, an amazing number of first-class restaurants, and a visual arts scene (Old Town and the near-legendary Canyon Road area) that’s second to none for a city of its size, and Santa Fe becomes a summer magnet for music and art lovers in need of a delightfully different change of pace.

Stay tuned.

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