The desert song

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Notes from a week of opera in Santa Fe:

  • For opera fans who have yet to make the trip, a sojourn to New Mexico for Santa Fe Opera’s festival is a must-do before you die. The repertoire is varied, and casting and performance quality consistently high. Not to mention the spectacular venue with open side and back views that showcase the desert sky during performances.
  • For South Florida residents, it offers a week of escape from the godless summer heat and humidity. The weather is balmy and pleasant with a cooling breeze—thunderstorms and flash flooding apart one day I was there. Add fine restaurants, intriguing art galleries, reasonable hotel rates and tickets that start at $26 and it’s a cultural pilgrimage that won’t break the bank.
  • Having grown accustomed to the sullen monosyllabic rudeness of South Florida, it was striking to encounter the Santa Fe locals in restaurants, hotels and stores who are open, friendly and speak in complete, intelligible sentences. A Miami friend, who noted the same social contrast, said, “I may move here permanently.”
  • In addition to the opera, the city also offers an ambitious and venturesome summer chamber music festival. Under artistic director Marc Neikrug, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival presents several events over a five-week span. I caught a terrific program by the trio Real Quiet, that included Elliott Carter’s Cello Sonata; an intriguing work, Real Loud, written for the trio by young composer Huang Ruo; and the premiere of Serenatas by Kaija Saariaho.
    The tall flame-haired Finnish composer was a prominent presence this summer due to the American premiere of Saariaho’s second opera, Adriana Mater. I had issues with the opera’s libretto and static quality, yet, as with her music for Adriana, Serenatas is consistently rewarding. Cast in five movements that can be played in any sequence, the music explores the full range and limits of the instruments but with an elegant, searching cool Nordic lyricism, suffused with a longing melancholy and extremely subtle dynamics and colors. Cellist Felix Fan, pianist Andrew Russo and percussionist David Cassin gave Serenatas sterling advocacy with playing of laser-like concentration.
    The 37th season of Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in 2009 will run from July 19-August 24 and offer premieres of commissioned works by George Tsontakis, Gunther Schuller, and Mark Anthony Turnage.; 505-982-1890.
  • The production of Verdi’s Falstaff had a quiet debut by a young man from a prominent Santa Fe couple. The silent role of Robin the page was charmingly played by Trevor Wilson, son of Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame of CIA/Robert Novak fame.
  • Santa Fe Opera’s 2009 season will offer Verdi’s La Traviata, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Gluck’s Alceste and the world premiere of Paul Moravec’s The Letter. Tickets are $26-$170.; 800-280-4654.

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Sat Aug 16, 2008
at 6:12 pm
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