ON THE COVER Santa Fe Opera opens its 61st sea­son this week­end, be­gin­ning with a pair of well-known clas­sics — Jo­hann Strauss II’s Vi­en­nese op­eretta Die Fle­d­er­maus and Gae­tano Donizetti’s Lu­cia di Lam­mer­moor, a vo­cally lus­trous bel canto tragedy of old-ti

Open sea­son

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

here’s no surer sign of sum­mer in the City Dif­fer­ent than the sound of the Santa Fe Opera Orches­tra in­ton­ing “The StarS­pan­gled Ban­ner” to launch a new year. The per­for­mance on Fri­day, June 30, be­gins the 61st sea­son of the com­pany, which started as an im­prob­a­ble dream in 1957 and, in the decades since, has grown into one of the na­tion’s ma­jor mu­si­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions and a must-visit des­ti­na­tion for opera afi­ciona­dos.

It has given some two thou­sand per­for­mances of 164 op­eras by 80 com­posers, in­clud­ing 14 world pre­mieres. An­other com­pany-com­mis­sioned pre­miere gets added to the list this sum­mer: The (R)evo­lu­tion of

Steve Jobs, by com­poser Ma­son Bates and li­bret­tist Mark Camp­bell. Much an­tic­i­pa­tion ac­com­pa­nies this new work. It is the first opera by Bates, a Bay Area com­poser who has gained an avid fol­low­ing for find­ing com­mon ground be­tween se­ri­ous mu­sic and se­ri­ous tech­nol­ogy. That com­bi­na­tion should pay div­i­dends in this tale of the Amer­i­can tech guru, both adored and re­viled, who searches for in­ner mean­ing in his life. Camp­bell is among the opera world’s busiest li­bret­tists; this year alone, he will see the pre­mieres of five op­eras built on his words. Santa Fe Opera has car­ried out some ma­jor over­hauls to its the­ater over the past cou­ple of years, and this may be the pro­duc­tion where its greatly en­hanced tech­ni­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties come into play most promi­nently.

The (R)evo­lu­tion of Steve Jobs is the penul­ti­mate pro­duc­tion of the sum­mer, with its open­ing night set for July 22, and it will run for six per­for­mances scat­tered through the rest of the sea­son. Var­i­ous en­rich­ment pro­grams will fill the week be­fore the open­ing, in­clud­ing a con­cert of Bates’ cham­ber mu­sic on July 16 and a two-day sym­po­sium called “Tech and the West” on July 21 and July 22. This pre­miere will re­ceive a vast amount of na­tional (and even in­ter­na­tional) cov­er­age, the more so since the Mu­sic Crit­ics As­so­ci­a­tion of North Amer­i­can has sched­uled its an­nual con­ven­tion in Santa Fe to co­in­cide with the open­ing. If you don’t have tick­ets yet, you would be ill ad­vised to drag your feet.

There is a risk that the moun­tains of at­ten­tion be­ing lav­ished on this new opera will suck all the air out of the room. That would be a pity, be­cause there are other things in this year’s of­fer­ings that richly de­serve no­tice. The sea­son opens this week­end with its feet firmly planted on the ground. Jo­hann Strauss II’s op­eretta Die Fle­d­er­maus and Donizetti’s tragedy Lu­cia

di Lam­mer­moor are both fa­mil­iar chest­nuts. The com­pany is bank­ing on the as­sump­tion that fa­mil­iar­ity breeds au­di­ences, and it has ac­cord­ingly sched­uled nine op­por­tu­ni­ties to see the for­mer (it is both the sea­son’s first per­for­mance and its last, on Aug. 26) and 10 to catch the lat­ter.

For the op­er­at­i­cally cu­ri­ous, the sea­son picks up steam in its third week, when Rim­sky-Kor­sakov’s

The Golden Cock­erel gets added to the mix be­gin­ning on July 15. The com­poser of Scheherazade wrote 15 op­eras, which makes him the most pro­duc­tive clas­sic com­poser of the Rus­sian mu­si­cal stage. A num­ber of them re­main in the reper­toire in Rus­sia, but this is the only one you are likely to en­counter in Amer­ica — and that rarely. A bagatelle among his stage works, it is prob­a­bly not the one he would most want to be re­mem­bered for; but for all its silly slight­ness, this col­or­ful and ram­bunc­tious work can be a de­light. Based on a folk­ish poem by Pushkin, it be­came a pop­u­lar suc­cess when Sergei Di­aghilev pro­duced it in Paris, in 1914, un­der the name Le coq

d’or. (The work is still widely known by that French ti­tle, for no good rea­son; if we wanted, we could call it Zolo­toy pe­tushok, as its com­poser did, since it will be per­formed here in Rus­sian.) This was one of Rim­skyKor­sakov’s last works, com­posed in 1906-1907, when a young­ster named Igor Stravin­sky was his most promis­ing pupil — and its pages of­fer pre­mo­ni­tions of Stravin­sky’s

Fire­bird (an­other work in­volv­ing an em­pow­ered fowl), which lay not far in the fu­ture. One dis­ap­point­ment. Bass-bari­tone Eric Owens, who had been slated to per­form the im­por­tant part of Tsar Dodon, has bailed from the pro­duc­tion, just as he did from SFO’s Capric­cio last sea­son. One as­sumes that his re­place­ment, Tim Mix, will han­dle the role ex­pertly. Still, Owens’ de­par­ture is a par­tic­u­lar let­down this year, as he was one of only two cer­ti­fi­able A-list stars on this sum­mer’s ros­ter, the other be­ing Su­san Gra­ham, who will por­tray Prince Orlof­sky in all but two per­for­mances of Die Fle­d­er­maus.

Bring­ing up the rear of the sea­son is an­other work of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est, Han­del’s Al­cina. It hits the stage on July 29. Much though I love many Baroque op­eras, I ap­pre­ci­ate that they are not to ev­ery­one’s taste; they can be long and repet­i­tive, their plots can re­sem­ble overly strate­gized chess games, and if the per­form­ers are not well at­tuned to stylis­tic niceties, page af­ter page can fall flat. But Han­del wrote at a cut above all other com­posers of late-Baroque op­eras in Ital­ian, and Al­cina is one of his most im­me­di­ate and en­gag­ing op­eras — not a for­mal­ized tale on a theme from Clas­si­cal an­tiq­uity, but rather a me­dieval fan­tasy in which a some­what sym­pa­thetic sor­cer­ess, abet­ted by her sprites and mon­sters, is pit­ted against a pas­sel of mor­tals wrapped up in quests of the heart. It has some­thing of a Shake­spearean fla­vor, re­ally, with some of its touches re­call­ing The Tem­pest or A

Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream. It prom­ises to be im­bued with ap­pro­pri­ate mu­si­cal sen­si­tiv­ity since it will be led by Harry Bicket, the com­pany’s chief con­duc­tor and a spe­cial­ist in the mu­sic of Han­del and his con­tem­po­raries.

All in all, it’s a sea­son rich in va­ri­ety: a frothy Vi­en­nese op­eretta, a brood­ing Ro­man­tic tragedy, a whim­si­cal Rus­sian fan­tasy, a mod­ern study of an Amer­i­can icon, and a cap­ti­vat­ing Baroque play of dreams and il­lu­sions. As Prince Orlof­sky will pro­claim on open­ing night and on many evenings there­after, “Cha­cun à son goût!” — James M. Keller

It’s a sea­son rich in va­ri­ety: a frothy Vi­en­nese op­eretta, a brood­ing Ro­man­tic tragedy, a whim­si­cal Rus­sian fan­tasy, a mod­ern study of an Amer­i­can icon, and a cap­ti­vat­ing Baroque play of dreams and il­lu­sions. As Prince Orlof­sky will pro­claim on open­ing night and on many evenings there­after, “Cha­cun à son goût!”

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