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Pearl Fishers set

The Santa Fe Opera Commences 63rd Season on June 28 & 29 with 'La bohème' and 'The Pearl Fishers'

Media Contact: Emily Doyle Moore | 505-986-5908 |


The 2019 Summer Festival Explores Classic Works of the Repertory as Well as Operas New to the Santa Fe Opera and World’s Stage

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Santa Fe, NM —  The Santa Fe Opera commences its 63rd Season this weekend, June 28 and 29, with performances of Puccini’s La Bohème and Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. This year’s festival runs from June 28 to August 24 and will present five operas in 36 performances, a special Santa Fe Opera debut concert by celebrated American soprano Renée Fleming with the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra led by Music Director Harry Bicket, and two Apprentice Scenes performances. The 63rd Season, the first to be led by General Director Robert K. Meya, Artistic Director Alexander Neef, and Music Director Harry Bicket, will explore classic works of the repertory as well as operas new to the Santa Fe Opera and the world’s stage.

Lauded by The Wall Street Journal as “the Rolls-Royce of American summer opera festivals,” the Santa Fe Opera annually draws 85,000 people from New Mexico and around the globe. Nestled atop a mountain vista in northern New Mexico, the company’s iconic John Crosby Theatre offers a nightly seating capacity of 2,126. The covered theatre is open on three sides, allowing visitors to enjoy performances complemented by the elements. Since 1957 the company has presented over 2,000 performances of 168 operas by 87 composers, including 15 world premieres and 45 American premieres.

La bohème

The seamstress and the poet. The singer and the painter. The musician. The philosopher. Young and poor and consumed with love, they lead “charming and terrible lives” in 19th-century Paris. They live in Latin Quarter garrets, furnished mostly with hope for the future. They fraternize with famous writers and artists at the Café Momus, finding a place in a rapidly changing society. They taste the freedom and perils of a freelance economy; and endure epidemics of passion and jealousy, hunger and disease. Puccini’s boisterous and poignant score is both an evocation of youth and a reminder that our rose-colored glasses may need a stronger prescription.

Director Mary Birnbaum describes her team’s approach to this new production: “A lot of times La bohème feels like, ‘Here are the four bohemians … and their girlfriends.’ It was very important for us to figure out who these women would have been in this 1830’s world. Mimì is an archetypal grisette, someone who was often an artist’s muse and expressed her sexuality in a transactional way (although not as a prostitute). Musetta is a lorette, a bit higher up socially, and in our production, she straddles the line between what women wear and what men wear, to see how much more power she can have. As a woman, I’m thrilled to direct this, because I want the women to be complete characters, not symbols, who have a whole journey towards and away from social conventions.”

The Pearl Fishers

With The Pearl Fishers, the then 25-year old Bizet blended the best elements of grand opera — including extensive use of the chorus and a plush orchestration — with extraordinarily lyrical arias and duets. The story is set in ancient times on the shores of Ceylon, where Zurga, ruler of the pearl fishers, is reunited with his long-lost comrade Nadir. Their famous duet, which recounts a mutual passion for the heavenly Leïla, is one of the finest expressions of friendship in music. Both men renounced her to save their bond, but her unexpected return soon traps them again in “the accursed snares of love.”

The late Lee Blakeley’s production premiered at the Santa Fe Opera in 2012 and garnered virtually universal critical praise:

“During the somber overture, the pearl divers came onstage carrying their dead chief, presumably a casualty of their hazardous profession. It was a small touch, but emblematic of Lee Blakeley’s smart production, the best of this summer’s season. Suddenly, the contrived plot made sense …” 
The Wall Street Journal

“Sometimes a straightforward staging — one that is true to the letter and spirit of the work — can be all that’s needed for a successful opera performance … Such is the case with Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers … which sets forth the Carmen composer’s earlier stage success with admirable clarity.” 
Chicago Tribune

Media Resources

2019 Season Overview with Santa Fe Opera Dramaturg Cori Ellison

La bohème

Director’s Notes from Mary Birnbaum
High-Resolution Imagery (for Press only)
Interview with Vanessa Vasquez (Mimì)
Tickets & Info

The Pearl Fishers

Director’s Notes from Shawna Lucey
High-Resolution Imagery
 (for Press only)
Interview with Corinne Winters 
Tickets & Info

Please note that high-resolution imagery is available for press and editorial purposes only. Please inquire for a password by writing to

La bohème

Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Premiered February 1, 1896, Teatro Regio, Turin

12 performances: June 28; July 3, 6, 12, 19 & 29; August 3, 7, 12, 17, 20 & 24, 2019
Sung in Italian with opera titles in English and Spanish
A new Santa Fe Opera production
Last performed by The Santa Fe Opera in 2011
Production support generously provided by James R. Seitz, Jr.

Creative Team

Conductor: Jader Bignamini
Director: Mary Birnbaum*
Scenic Design: Grace Laubacher*
Costume Design: Camellia Koo*
Lighting Design: Anshuman Bhatia*
Chorus Master: Susanne Sheston


Mimì: Vanessa Vasquez*
Musetta: Gabriella Reyes*
Rodolfo: Mario Chang
Marcello: Zachary Nelson+
Schaunard: Will Liverman*+
Colline: Soloman Howard
Benoit/Alcindoro: Dale Travis

The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra and Chorus

*Santa Fe Opera debut, +Former Santa Fe Opera Apprentice 

The Pearl Fishers

Music by Georges Bizet
Libretto by Michel Carré and Eugène Cormon
Premiered September 30, 1863, Théâtre Lyrique, Paris

7 Performances: June 29; July 5, 10 & 30; August 8, 16 & 23, 2019
Sung in French with opera titles in English and Spanish
A revival of Santa Fe Opera’s 2012 production
Production support generously provided by The Estate of Suzanne Hanson Poole
and Erin & Thomas Bunkley III

Creative Team

Conductor: Timothy Myers*
Director: Shawna Lucey+
Scenic Design: Jean-Marc Puissant
Costume Design: Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Design: Rick Fisher
Original Production: Lee Blakeley
Chorus Master: Susanne Sheston


Leïla: Corinne Winters
Nadir: Ilker Arcayürek*^
Zurga: Anthony Clark Evans*
Nourabad: Robert Pomakov

The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra and Chorus

*Santa Fe Opera debut, +Former Santa Fe Opera Apprentice, ^American Operatic Stage debut

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 an understanding and appreciation of opera among a diverse public.

Tenor Ilker Arcayürek (Nadir) makes his American Operatic Debut in The Pearl Fishers. Photo by Curtis Brown.