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Side view of theater at dusk with white baffles

The Common Thread

By Craig Smith


The Common Thread

Sunset and moonrise. Blue skies and towering thunderheads. Light-drenched days and star-filled nights. The smell of piñon and the feel of a noontime breeze on the skin.

Such New Mexico glories bind together everyone who is part of The Santa Fe Opera, from year-round staff to the 700-plus additional persons who come together for each festival season. Thousands of their predecessors have known the magic, too.

Singers and seamstresses, orchestra members and apprentices, box office staff and backstage personnel, are all one people. At The Santa Fe Opera, family is not just a word, but a way of life. It always has been.

It’s a clan devoted to one simple goal: excellence in every endeavor. That was the company’s compass and guide right from the first 1957 season, when founder John O. Crosby guided a small yet audacious band of visionaries through seven operas in a 480-seat, open-air theater.

Every task was done as well as possible, whether it was planting white petunias or mounting Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Crosby himself graded the campus roads with the same attention to detail as he led an opera from the podium.

The result was immediate acclaim and well-earned success, offstage as well as on. Today, 60 years later, that success is maintained at the same high level, in a towering theater seating more than 2,000 on expansive and tradition-rich grounds.

Anyone who ever has been part of The Santa Fe Opera, from the earliest years to the present, is part of a far-flung tribe united by shared memories of jobs well done. When they meet, the recognition is immediate, the greeting heartfelt.

On the New York subway, an SFO designer from the 1990s meets a colleague planning a 2016 lighting plot. Apprentice artists who are now rising stars cross paths in concert halls and opera houses around the country.  Administrative interns from decades ago come back home as full-time staff. Conductors and directors find themselves working together again a world away from the Tesuque hills.

They all delight in their meetings, and the same question is always on their lips: “When will you be back in Santa Fe?”

As the 2015 season launches, there is plenty of artistic glory waiting in the wings. Donizetti’s comic The Daughter of the Regiment opens the 59th season, followed by Verdi’s towering Rigoletto. Mozart’s enchanting La Finta Giardiniera then takes the stage, with Richard Strauss’ menacing Salome — a Crosby favorite — to follow.

These works are rounded out by the newest addition to Santa Fe’s long line of world and American premieres: Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain, based on Charles Frazier’s acclaimed novel.

For these operas, as for every production at The Santa Fe Opera, excellence is always the objective. As Crosby himself might well have noted, that is, and ever will be, the family motto.