Crosby tended to go through assistants with what seemed like fatal regularity. Assistants would last for a year or two or three, then vanish — not necessarily because they did anything wrong, but because they were expected to live for and with the opera, with personal affairs and lives kept a distant second, and it was too much stress. Other employees also felt the weight of Crosby’s expectations. He once became annoyed when a favored staff member had the temerity to get married during an Opera America conference in Santa Fe. From his point of view, the nuptials should have been postponed, and the staffer should have been on duty. She noted in bewilderment, “What was I supposed to do, live in sin?” Another time, he was annoyed rather then sympathetic when an assistant wanted to leave due to a death in his family, in the midst of season preparations. Although Crosby was a perfectionist, a mistake could be forgiven if accompanied by an explanation, an apology, and a game plan for ensuring the error would not recur. Insolence, insubordination, or defending oneself when in the wrong — and occasionally the right — would prompt a growled reprimand or a furious, full-scale dressing down. As a demonstration of authority, such a reaction was understandable, if deplorable. From a human perspective, especially when Crosby was in the wrong, it was more puzzling. At those times, he would sometimes apologize meekly; at other times, he would demonstrate that he knew he had been in the wrong, even if he could not bring himself to formally admit an error. His attitude toward the injured person would show his regret. And Crosby could be a caring and thoughtful boss. Once he sent a young staff member to work in a bank for several years to gain financial expertise. Another time, when someone left the company to take another position in town, he was told, “You’ll have a better chance of coming back here to the opera if you go somewhere else and get experienced in a leadership position” — and in time, the staff member did return. He repaid loyalty with loyalty, even though the road to the top could be bumpy. He always preferred to promote from within, but he expected loyalty to continue and even increase as advancement occurred. With Crosby, no news was good news. If you heard nothing, you knew he was satisfied you were doing your job. One simply did not expect lavish praise for doing so. And he enjoyed being a mentor, especially when introducing people to numbers and accurate accounting. “The best way to work with him was to be responsible,” one longtime staff member put it. “He was really good at letting people do their jobs. He had clearly defined expectations, he expected the highest level of service and greatest amount of courtesy and the best skills. You lived up to it or you weren’t sticking around.” Crosby also hated it if people themselves chose not to stick around; he could not imagine why anyone would choose another organization over the Santa Fe Opera or another boss over him. For him to encourage a staff member to leave to gain experience was one thing; for a staff member to leave to further his or her own professional aims was unthinkable.
Crosby inspects the carnage on the morning of July 27, 1967, after Santa Fe Opera’s theater was destroyed by fire; photo Alan Stoker; left, the Santa Fe Opera, 2010; photo Robert Godwin; far left, Crosby clearing his head; photo Michael Salas; opposite page, John Crosby in the pit, 1988; photo Hans Fahrmeyer All images courtesy Santa Fe Opera/ University of New Mexico Press