Pueblo Opera Cultural Council
In the 2018 Festival Season, audiences at the opera experienced an unprecedented and historical expression of community as members of San Ildefonso Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo and Tesuque Pueblo joined together to offer a corn dance before and during performances of Doctor Atomic. All involved wished to continue to explore opportunities for working together. The work began with a series of gatherings that resulted in the formation of the Pueblo Opera Cultural Council (POCC), composed of seven members from San Ildefonso Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo and Tesuque Pueblo.
In 2023 the POCC in collaboration with the Santa Fe Opera produced the documentary film The Pueblo Opera Program: And What Could Be Next, directed by Beverly R. Singer of Santa Clara Pueblo. The film chronicles the 50-year history between the Santa Fe Opera and the Pueblo and Tribal Nations of New Mexico and how its innovative programming has inspired Pueblo and Tribal youth to learn about opera, attend performance rehearsals and perform at the Santa Fe Opera. The documentary explores the program’s future, including initiatives to expand its reach to more communities and engage a wider audience in the power of opera as a tool for cultural exchange and understanding.
To share our living indigenous cultural existence through knowledge of prayer, dance, song, music and art.
- The Pueblo Opera Cultural Council is led by the Pueblos.
- The Pueblo Opera Cultural Council honors its focus on healing.
- The Pueblo Opera Cultural Council wants to build conscientiously but without hesitation.
- The Pueblo Opera Cultural Council will work to have and to give support to other Indigenous artists.
- The opera occupies Tesuque land and we must find ways to honor and acknowledge this fact.
Pueblo Opera Council Member Reflections on the History and Future of POP
Claudene A. Martinez
Pueblo of San Ildefonso
I have been involved with the Santa Fe Opera and the Pueblo Opera Program for at least 40 years. I started attending the Pueblo Opera Program Youth Nights as young as 10 years old. Every summer when I attended Youth Nights, the singing, props and costumes always fascinated me, and it was awesome when we got to do a backstage tour. As I grew older, I became the chaperone and began going with my nieces and younger relatives to the Youth Nights. I had my son in 1991 and took him to his first opera when he was six (6); he attended every summer as I did and enjoyed the time. Now I take my Grandsons to the opera. I love to hear and see the looks on the younger kid’s faces when it’s their first time and see them so fascinated just like I was, and then when they say to me, “I cannot wait to attend again next summer!” I absolutely love seeing the generations after generations attend the Youth Nights and it seems every year is as if it is their first time again!
I participated in Doctor Atomic in 2018, which will forever hold a special place in my heart. Going back to 2016 when I first met Peter Sellars, the librettist and director of Doctor Atomic, I learned more about the details that go into the costumes, practices and preparations in creating an opera. Doctor Atomic began a great collaboration with an acknowledgment of our traditional culture with a performance of a Corn Dance before and during the opera, thus creating the Pueblo Opera Cultural Council.
The Pueblo Opera Cultural Council is a new stepping-stone for the surrounding pueblos and our youth. This new working Council gives us an opportunity to evolve our traditional culture with the Santa Fe Opera and their constituents. I am honored and thankful to be a part of the Pueblo Opera Cultural Council and look forward to future collaborations with the Santa Fe Opera. This is only the beginning and cannot wait to celebrate the Pueblo Opera Program’s 50th Anniversary in 2023 and many more to come. Let the planning and excitement begin!
Pueblo of Santa Clara
Listening to the late-night chimes, to the sound of the orchestra tuning their instruments, while feeling the cool breeze blow across me as the lights dim; unsure of what to expect, I was curious… and excited. A simple memory that resonates with me. From this experience, it has opened doors, allowing for more creativity, compassion and love. I grew up broadening my horizons and continue to learn of other interesting worlds. The Pueblo Opera Program was a catalyst. Coming to a full circle, I have returned by having the honor of being a member of the Pueblo Opera Cultural Council. Looking forward, I want generations to have that experience – that experience that strikes a fire within them.
Pueblo of San Ildefonso
The Pueblo Opera Program touches my heart to the core. It fulfills and awakens my inner and outer being. The arts come alive in sight, hearing, feeling and strengthening our knowledge and creativity through attending an opera and sharing a common bond of preserving our culture through a similar shared art form. Growing up in Two Worlds (native and non-native), to me, is existing within a diverse world of various peoples, all rich in their own culture within themselves. I always reminded my family – “never forget who you are and where you come from”.
For me, the Pueblo Opera Program has opened a door to an unfamiliar yet similar shared cultural experience. It electrifies my mind on so many levels. By being involved in POP from youth to present, it has presented many aspects in my journey of life. From my early youthful years, I was educated and introduced as a youth to an art form of which little was known of or had never been exposed to. Through my adult years, I have served as a youth coordinator by leading the new generation of pueblo youth and young at heart to attend opera as I once had, continuing this tradition. It was born of an idea that perhaps in the beginning started as ”these poor little Indian children should attend the opera,” whereas in reality, Pueblo youth expressed curiosity for the big ole opera house sitting upon this hill. These Pueblo people pass by this massive building on their way to the big town of Santa Fe to gather food and supplies. The Pueblo elders might have thought, “That’s the place where important and rich people gather.” Long story short, POP came to be, and it has continued to be acknowledged by many tribal people throughout the surrounding tribes and beyond by bringing long lasting memories that are forever treasured by many.
The operas themselves are artforms of dance, acting, costumes, music, rehearsal, background/surrounding artwork of props, drama and poetry that is all blended/balanced out to communicate a story: The endless classical operas that are retold to preserve and the new operas of today to express onward for generations to come. Serving in this program has enlightened and enhanced my desire to continue to be involved in the Pueblo Opera Program. It truly serves our Pueblo communities. My hopes are that this program both benefits all involved and SFO continues to keep the collaborations of arts within our surrounding tribes.
Pueblo of Tesuque
Bravo! Bravo! The emotions are a bound within me; this has been years in the making. The crowd is on their feet, clapping, and you can sense the excitement and feel the magnitude of what we just witnessed. The performers are taking another bow, and you see the tears of joy streaming from their faces, elated and thrilled on this groundbreaking event. This is the first opera sung in a Native language with Native people in the cast, written by a Native writer, centered around the stories of the Pueblo people, performed on this beautiful warm summer night, center stage. I look back into the audience and see many friends who have had this dream and who have spent many years working diligently to see this performance come to this magical place. It’s incredible seeing young opera voices who started coming to the opera by attending the Pueblo Opera Program (POP), and now they are in this opera. It has come full circle!! We are here! We have a voice! We are proud Pueblo people! This is a dream!
As a person who started coming to the opera as a child to being on the Pueblo Opera Program Advisory Committee, the Pueblo Opera Cultural Council and now the Santa Fe Opera Board of Directors, I like to have these visions of what could be possible for the future. Ideas, dreams and conversations will bring us to the next 50 years of POP. In 2023, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of POP. We have seen the generations that have attended the opera and how it’s been a part of our communities. We celebrate this program and all the work that it has taken to provide this to the Native communities, our youth and future. We are here! We have a voice! We are proud Pueblo people! This is a dream! We have more work to do and dreams do come true! Happy Anniversary POP!!
Header Image (left to right): Antoinette Herrera, Santa Clara Pueblo; Leon Roybal, San Ildefonso Pueblo; Claudene Martinez, San Ildefonso Pueblo; Andreemina Harvier, Santa Clara Pueblo; Andrew Jordan Harvier, Santa Clara Pueblo; Marita Hinds, Tesuque Pueblo; Renee Roybal, San Ildefonso Pueblo.
Photo Credit: Kristin Hullihan