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Side view of theater at dusk with white baffles

The Santa Fe Opera's 2018 Season in Review


The Santa Fe Opera reports record-breaking ticket sales and fundraising for Charles MacKay’s final season as General Director

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Dr. Atomic scene on stage


On February 9, Robert K. Meya was appointed The Santa Fe Opera’s next General Director. He engaged Canadian Opera Company’s General Director Alexander Neef as SFO’s first Artistic Director and appointed Chief Conductor Harry Bicket as the company’s Music Director. Meya became the Opera’s fourth General Director in its 62-year history, and both Neef’s and Bicket’s new positions became effective on October 1, 2018.

Ticket Sales

The Santa Fe Opera reported $10.3 million (unaudited figure) in ticket sales and total attendance of 78,550 during the 2018 season. Sales were nearly $1.7 million (19%) higher than the previous season, and 2018 saw the highest ticket revenue in the company’s 62-year history. Primary reasons have been attributed to an attractive repertory mix and a strong economy that supported robust tourism. 91.4% of available seats were filled – the highest percentage of capacity in the last decade. Attendees were from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, and 33 other foreign countries.

Contributed Income

The company reported in excess of $9.5 million (unaudited figure) in annual operating support for the 2018 fiscal year which ended on September 30. This marks the highest figure for annual contributions in the company’s history. The Santa Fe Opera’s Opening Weekend Celebration was a stunning success with the highest attendance in the history of the event. The MacKay Fund for Debut Artists, which kicked off with a gala event in New York City on April 19, has exceeded expectations and is now $250,000 from the fund’s goal of $2 million.

Artistic Success

The 2018 season presented five operas in 37 performances, running from June 29 to August 25. The Opera’s 62nd season offered works by American icons and European masters. Leonard Bernstein’s Candide and John Adams’ and Peter Sellars’ Doctor Atomic were company premieres; Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Gioachino Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) returned as two extremely popular revivals; and Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos saw its first staging since 1999 in a new production.

In August, the company’s management team came to an agreement with The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, extending its contract through the 2023 season. The Santa Fe Opera’s Music Director, Harry Bicket, has renewed his relationship with the company through 2023 as well.

Community Engagement

The Santa Fe Opera’s education programs have expanded both in numbers and depth of programming. The total number of individuals reached through programs and partnerships in fiscal year 2018 has exceeded 57,000, nearly a 15% increase from the previous year. Four commissions are currently in development as a part of the Opera for All Voices initiative, and an eight-episode podcast “Key Change” was launched during the summer. Strategic partnerships have been expanded to include the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science and Creative Santa Fe; a new partnership has been forged with the Department of Cultural Affairs and New Mexico Libraries; and Albuquerque Public Schools, in addition to Santa Fe and Rio Rancho Public Schools, have been added to the Opera’s Kennedy Center Education Partnership. The Opera Storytellers camp successfully migrated to The Santa Fe Opera campus in June and had its highest enrollment in its four-year history.

As a part of the unprecedented success of The Santa Fe Opera’s main stage opera Doctor Atomic – a production unlike any staged before it – the purpose and integrity of the work itself took on new clarity. Relationships built both on- and off-stage with the Tularosa Basin Downwinders and dancers from San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, and Tesuque Pueblos enhanced understanding of the opera. Events and discussions organized in conjunction with the opera’s opening were extremely well-attended, including a sold-out event in association with Creative Santa Fe at the Lensic Performing Arts Center featuring Sam Donaldson facilitating a conversation among director and librettist Peter Sellars, choreographer Emily Johnson, and former Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz.

Theater Operations

Opera Shop and concessions sales were both at an all-time company high. The Opera Shop surpassed $465,000 (unaudited figure) in receipts, exceeding the previously highest record of $449,000 during the 50th anniversary season (2006). Concessions sales, which included several post-season rental concert performances, topped $356,000.


Press and media coverage throughout fiscal year 2018 was at an all-time high for a season without a world premiere in its repertory. Top stories were related to the leadership transition and the production of Doctor Atomic. Searching on Instagram for #sfoInstameet will bring up a wealth of photographs documenting the 2018 Season by social media influencers from all corners of the community. The Opera’s third official season of collaboration with locally-based Simply Social Media resulted in five popular Instameets and a curated show at Iconik Lúpe, a popular coffee shop.

The Santa Fe Opera is honored by its special appearance in RBG, a documentary directed and produced by award-winning filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen. Detailing the life and legal legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the film is currently being presented by CNN Films and is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and many streaming services.

Co-Productions and Rentals

In October 2017 The Santa Fe Opera’s Arabella by Richard Strauss (2012) was presented in Toronto. A co-production with Minnesota Opera and Canadian Opera Company, it is currently in rehearsal at San Francisco Opera. Also in October Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain (2015), a co-commission and co-production by The Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and Minnesota Opera, was presented by collaborating partner, North Carolina Opera. In February 2018 SFO’s co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette (2016) was performed in Barcelona. In April and May Laurent Pelly’s inventive and charming storybook production of Cendrillon (2006) took center stage at The Metropolitan Opera with Joyce DiDonato returning in the title role. During the summer Richard Strauss’ Capriccio (2017) traveled to Garsington Opera in the United Kingdom. In September 2018 The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music presented the East Coast premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (2017), which was co-commissioned by The Santa Fe Opera, Seattle Opera, and San Francisco Opera, with support from Cal Performances. The co-production with Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera, and The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music next heads to Seattle in February 2019.

Board of Directors

At the August 2018 Board of Directors meeting, Sarah Billinghurst Solomon and Dannehl M. Twomey were elected as Vice Presidents, and Frederick R. Haas was elected Vice Chairman.

The Santa Fe Opera Board welcomed new Directors in fiscal year 2018. Mr. David F. Ertel (Chief Financial Officer for Vizient, a management consulting company) and Dr. Beth M. Moise (President of Beth Moise International, a global coaching and consulting practice) were elected as Directors. Mr. Alan M. Weber (entrepreneur, author, and 43rd Mayor of the City of Santa Fe since 2018), Mr. Dan C. Perry (Chair, The Santa Fe Opera Business Council), and Mrs. Eileen Woodbury (President, Guilds, Inc.) were appointed as Ex-Officio Directors.

The mission of The Santa Fe Opera is to advance the operatic art form by presenting ensemble performances of the highest quality in a unique setting with a varied repertory of new, rarely performed, and standard works; to ensure the excellence of opera’s future through apprentice programs for singers, technicians, and arts administrators; and to foster and enrich an understanding and appreciation of opera among a diverse public.