My wife and I made a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico during the summer of 2014. She had been to the town several times, but I had not. We both love art, culture, and the southwest, and Santa Fe is one of those places where all three intersect. We stayed in a lovely, rambling house just off Canyon Road, which placed us in walking distance from the major downtown attractions and more art galleries than anyone could possibly explore in a year’s time — alas, we were there for less than a week.
We also took some excursions outside the town to places like Taos, a famous haven for artists. I went out to the center of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the 7th highest bridge in the United States and the 82nd highest bridge in the world. We ate incredible, authentic Mexican food at a little roadside taco stand. We flew in and out of Albuquerque, so we were able to see some of the state’s desert landscape on the road between the two locations.
We met up with some friends one evening who live in Albuquerque who routinely make the drive up to Santa Fe to attend the opera located just outside town. They invited us to go with them. I was not raised with any exposure, appreciation, or understanding of opera. I was raised with the music of the Allman Brothers (outside of church, that is); the singing of Elton John; the acting of Robert Redford. The closest I came to an opera performance was a Bugs Bunny cartoon or a Disney movie. Even as an adult, although I am more familiar with famous operas, I still don’t know much about the art form. Unfortunately, my cultural horizons don’t expand very far beyond literature and the thick forests of popular music, theater, and cinema.
For those who fall into this same category, I have good news. There is a place you can go to appreciate opera even if you have no interest in it whatsoever. The Santa Fe Opera House has been attracting audiences to watch performances and take in the magnificent views of the mountain ranges of northern New Mexico since 1957. According to its website, more than 2,000 performances of 164 different operas have been given here, including fourteen world premieres and 45 American premieres. Many singers whose names are now found on the rosters of the world’s leading opera houses began their careers in Santa Fe. The company was founded by the late John Crosby, a young conductor from New York, who had an idea of starting an opera company to give American singers an opportunity to learn and perform new roles in a setting that allowed ample time to rehearse and prepare each production.
The Crosby Theater was built in 1998 and takes the idea of “open air” to a whole new level. The modern structure features white sail-like wind baffles, a clerestory window for light, and a backstage that is almost completely open. The sides of the theater are also open, so the audience can see the mountain peeks rising many miles away. The breathtaking views are enough to distract even the most devoted opera enthusiast, but for someone like me who is a bit less than enthusiastic, this venue became the attraction. We had a lovely dinner on the grounds of the opera before the performance. The show we saw was a comedy, all in another language, of course. There were hilarious parts, the orchestral music was excellent, and I ended up enjoying it more than I had anticipated. Still, I can’t imagine a stage performance anywhere in the world that could be more impressive than the setting of the expansive desert as night approaches. If you love opera, you have to go to the Santa Fe Opera. If you don’t love opera, this is where you need to go to start appreciating it.