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Side view of theater at dusk with white baffles

An Evening at Santa Fe Opera: Summer's Beautiful Song

By Judith Moir


An Evening at Santa Fe Opera: Summer’s Beautiful Song

Maybe you’ve never been to Santa Fe. Maybe you’ve never been to Santa Fe or an opera. Regardless of your Santa Fe savvy or your opera intelligence, the following primer on SFO how-to’s will help tune up the experience.

Getting started

Let’s begin with tickets. Have them? If not, online is a snap, and the box office is open Monday-Saturday, 9-to-5 during the season. I heartily recommend the subscription series for an affordable multiple-opera immersion. Standing room tickets are available only by phone or in person. Do keep these important facts in mind: Performances start at 8:30 p.m. from July 3–August 1, and then move to 8:00 p.m. from August 3 until end of season; once the overture begins, there’s no seating until an appropriate break.

On the subject of timely arrival, two words: Opera dining! Go early to relax over a preview buffet with an informative talk on the night’s performance­­—nothing like a glass of vino and the backstory to bring the evening to life. Top-drawer elegance shines with fine dining and remarks from SFO General Director Charles MacKay and a member of the creative team at an Opening Night dinner on SFO’s lush grounds. If you dine in town, choose free prelude talks either one or two hours before the performance. For you die-hard DIY-ers, tailgating in the parking lot is a time-honored SFO tradition (more on that later)!


Regarding the parking lot, SFO parking is handled with speed and efficiency, but it’s no problem if you don’t want to drive. Shuttles pick up from eight Santa Fe hotel locations and once per night from Albuquerque; purchase shuttle tickets in advance to avoid the inevitable sell-out. Take an early ride, and you’ll have time to sip a glass of champagne and enjoy the start-to-finish sunset glories for which the Opera is renowned.

A note on weather: Changeable! Dress at the Opera is as you like it—from formal wear to jeans and sandals, we do it all. The 7,000-ft. altitude can lead to chilly evenings, however, and summer monsoon season means rain is possible.


Opera plots are famous for tangled webs of love and deception, but novices need not feel intimidated. Rest assured that you’ll know exactly what is going on, because SFO’s Crosby Theatre saw the writing on the wall (pun intended) years ago and led the vanguard by adding individual seat-back supertitles in both English and Spanish. Intermissions during each evening’s performance provide an opportunity to have a cocktail or coffee at the bar, where you’ll undoubtedly overhear lively kudos and educational critiques from die-hard SFO fans.

The 2015 Season

Now that we have those details covered, let’s move on to the juicy part—five new productions! SFO has always been justly celebrated for its thoughtful programming and the 2015 season is no exception. There’s always a special treat—a world premiere, an American premiere or a first for SFO’s stage—mixed with tried-and-true classics of the canon. The season opens with Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment, a rollicking love-story distinguished by the nine high C’s the tenor has in his toolkit. Following on the heels of this comic romp is Verdi’s tragic masterpiece Rigoletto, centered on traditional themes of romance, betrayal and revenge. Next on the bill is Strauss’ Salome in a fond nod to SFO founder John Crosby’s favorite composer; the tale of a headstrong biblical princess who demands the head of the man she cannot have, this one-act opera adds the sensuous dance of the seven veils to the composer’s gorgeous music. New to SFO is Mozart’s dizzy and delightful La Finta Giardiniera—created when the composer was only eighteen years old—a frothy fable of love and mistaken identities rich in the abundant vocal ensembles that Mozart lovers cherish. Completing the repertoire is this season’s world premiere, composer Jennifer Higdon’s new opera Cold Mountain, adapted from Charles Frazier’s best-selling novel of the Civil War, and tickets for its five performances are selling like hotcakes.

Extraordinary Apprentices

It wouldn’t be a company without a chorus, and that’s where SFO’s ingenious apprenticeship program fits in. Initiated in the very first season, the program has kick-started many a career and has moved beyond singers to include budding production wizards who wend their way into theatres around the world. Apprentice concerts—August 16 and August 23—are my preferred way of introducing youngsters and opera newbies to the joys of vocal performance. Each evening is a series of staged scenes from works of the masters and you can’t beat the price-point (just $15 for adults and $5 for youth!) if there’s a sleepy fifth-grader in tow.

Behind the Scenes

The kiddos (and you too) will appreciate a night at the Opera even more after a backstage tour, Monday-Friday at 9:00 a.m.; garden lovers should add the 10:00 a.m. tour of the magnificent grounds to their bucket list. On Saturdays through August 29th, the Opera Guild offers free Insiders’ Days, complete with 8:15 a.m. refreshments before the backstage tour.

There you have it—my guide to your summer opera program—wait, that reminds me! After you see the Dan Namingha artwork on the cover of your program, you may want to stop at the Opera Shop to pick up a poster or an opera souvenir to remind you of your night at the Santa Fe Opera. And oh, what a night that will be!