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Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - END­LESS SUM­MER James M. Keller

James M. Keller on a group of late-sum­mer per­for­mances

Santa Fe’s over­stuffed sum­mer sea­son looked as if it should be wind­ing down while Santa Fe Opera worked through its fi­nal evenings, and yet the cal­en­dar re­mained far from empty. Quite a few events clus­tered at the end of Au­gust this year, pro­vid­ing lo­cals with a wealth of en­ter­tain­ment and mak­ing part-time Santa Feans think about ex­tend­ing their sum­mer stays to take in a few more evenings out.

On the af­ter­noon of Aug. 25, Santa Fe Opera teamed up with the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter to present “Jus­tice at the Opera” at the lat­ter’s digs. This was the hottest ticket of the sum­mer, a hy­brid opera-with-com­men­tary per­for­mance in which the un­ques­tioned star was As­so­ciate Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg of the United States Supreme Court, an ac­tivist opera lover and long­time en­thu­si­ast of our lo­cal company. Four­teen of Santa Fe Opera’s ap­pren­tice singers ap­peared in var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions in nine in­de­pen­dent opera scenes, lightly staged by direc­tor Kevin New­bury — he over­saw The (R)evo­lu­tion of

Steve Jobs this sum­mer — and ac­com­pa­nied at the pi­ano by Robert Tweten. Each of the scenes in­volved some le­gal mat­ter. You might at first think it would take some scour­ing to find enough rel­e­vant op­eras, but once you start notic­ing, you see that the law pops up all over the place on the lyric stage. Con­flicts and res­o­lu­tions are not all that far be­hind love and fa­mil­ial de­vo­tion as plot mo­ti­va­tors in opera.

Gins­burg made ob­ser­va­tions about the le­gal im­pli­ca­tions of each scene and of­ten cited a par­al­lel mod­ern case. Her com­ments were se­ri­ous yet en­ter­tain­ing, and they in­cluded a few zingers of the sort that make tri­als so sidesplit­ting. The bit from Verdi’s Fal­staff in which two mar­ried women dis­cover that the fat knight has sent them iden­ti­cal love let­ters in­vited thoughts on let­ter fraud, with Gins­burg ob­serv­ing a bit wist­fully that tech­nol­ogy has ren­dered that par­tic­u­lar plot de­vice ob­so­lete. The hir­ing of a con­tract killer in Rigo­letto, also from Verdi, led to an anec­dote about a grisly 1993 crime in which a Detroit hit man re­searched his task by con­sult­ing a book ti­tled Hit Man: A Tech­ni­cal Manual for In­de­pen­dent

Con­trac­tors — and then the fam­ily of the slain man sued the book’s pub­lisher. It be­came a free­dom-ofthe-press case, but the Court of Ap­peals ruled that aid­ing and abet­ting mur­der does not qual­ify un­der the First Amend­ment, so there. This evoked mostly ap­plause from the au­di­ence. Bizet’s Carmen, in which the epony­mous hero­ine wrig­gles out of im­pris­on­ment by promis­ing a sen­sual re­ward to the cor­po­ral charged with her cap­ture, in­vited a ru­mi­na­tion on plea bar­gains (“97.8 per­cent of all fed­eral trial court con­vic­tions were plea bar­gained”). Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore is rarely linked with Wagner’s Der Ring des

Ni­belun­gen in po­lite con­ver­sa­tion, but Madame Jus­tice ob­served that, not­with­stand­ing their dif­fer­ence in tone, both re­volve around con­tracts. A sear­ing aria from Philip Glass’ Ap­po­mat­tox in­vited ob­ser­va­tions about civil rights. Puc­cini’s Tosca yielded thoughts about the prison sys­tem. A scene from Verdi’s Aida showed nasty Am­neris craft­ing a lie to get the hero­ine to re­veal in­ner feel­ings (“Aida might have had a strong case against Am­neris for in­flic­tion of emo­tional dis­tress”). All joined for a rous­ing en­sem­ble from Trial by Jury, by Gil­bert and Sul­li­van (“A pair un­ri­valled for treat­ing the law, lawyers, and Ital­ian opera sar­cas­ti­cally”).

The ap­pren­tices ac­quit­ted them­selves ad­mirably, and Jus­tice Gins­burg par­tic­i­pated gamely in the ac­tion here and there, ac­cept­ing a ticket to the masked ball (in, yes, Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera) and sign­ing a doc­u­ment in L’elisir d’amore. Not­with­stand­ing the as­sur­ance she showed as an up-and-comer on the dra­matic stage, we would en­cour­age her to stick to her cur­rent ca­reer path for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Anew stage in town is the am­phithe­ater that sprouted dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of Phase Two of the bur­geon­ing Santa Fe Botan­i­cal Gar­den, an area de­voted to plants grown for food, medicine, or other hu­man use. We first glimpsed the space last De­cem­ber dur­ing the Gar­den’s GLOW fes­ti­val, and it ap­peared pretty mod­est — just a few rings of steeply raised, rock-paved bleach­ers that didn’t look as if they would hold many peo­ple or be very com­fort­able. That, it turned out, was just the in­fra­struc­ture for a good-sized theater, mostly shaded by a high ra­mada, with ac­tual chairs ranged on the ground and the “bleach­ers” and fan­ning out toward the sides. Planted bor­ders were in­ter­spersed among some of the rows, and tas­seled corn plants tow­ered next to the stage. Since all this is set deep within the Botan­i­cal Gar­den, which view­ers stroll through to ar­rive at the am­phithe­ater, at­ten­dees feel deeply “within na­ture.”

The Botan­i­cal Gar­den part­nered with Shake­speare in Santa Fe and The Shake­speare Guild to present 10 evening per­for­mances of The Tem­pest, a play that, as Shake­speare wrote it, un­rolls en­tirely out-of-doors. I would guess that the place could ac­com­mo­date about 200 view­ers, and it was sold out the night I at­tended (Aug. 29). Na­gle Jack­son di­rected this pro­duc­tion, which made good use of the am­ple, slightly thrust stage, or­na­mented sim­ply with a ship’s mast (a re­minder that the play­ers are stranded on an island) and some squat rock pil­lars that (ap­pro­pri­ately) had plants spilling out from their crevices. Cos­tumes (by Jas­minka Jesic) were sim­ple but hand­some, and a trio led by Mary Kim­ball Out­ten chimed in now

“Jus­tice at the Opera” was the hottest ticket of the sum­mer, a hy­brid opera-with-com­men­tary per­for­mance in which the un­ques­tioned star was As­so­ciate Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg of the United States Supreme Court.

As­so­ciate Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg

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