I have taken a lot of teasing about my bottomless bucket list in the past. But I still maintain without goals, we just meander. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, except my meandering is typically mediocre unless I know where I want to go. Yes, it’s all about the journey, but I need to at least have a destination in mind. In this case, the destination is the Santa Fe Opera.
I first became an opera fan back when I saw the movie, Room with a View. I fell in love with the soundtrack, though previously opera had fallen into that undesirable music genre of “yech!” But when Lucy Honeychurch sat making out with George on the window sill overlooking Florence’s Duomo to the aria, “O Mio Babbino Caro,” I was hooked. So much so that I bought the CD, “Movies Go to the Opera.” The passion it stirred in me meant there was no turning back.
When I lived in Manhattan. my first opera was Puccini’s La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera. By now, I knew the story line by heart. Besides, it’s Puccini….spoiler alert, the girl always gets it in the end. So I turned off the subtitles and just felt the music. It made me weep.
But I loved the Metropolitan Opera House as much as I loved the opera. Thousands of twinkling crystals on the chandeliers, all which retract simultaneously into the ceiling as the massive five-story curtains go up. As I would sit listening to the orchestra warm up, hearing riffs of familiar songs to come, I would fantasize about other famous opera houses I wanted to visit one day; La Scala in Milan, the Arena di Verona, and the beautiful outdoor venue in Santa Fe.
Although I have been to Santa Fe on several occasions, I have never been able to time it for the brief opera season. Since the venue is over 7,000 ft, performances are condensed between the end of June and August. But opening night fell only a few days after my return from my recent trip to New York with a stop on the way back to visit family. Finally, the timing was right.
I did the full-on opera immersion beginning with the backstage tour at 9:00am, followed by the “Ranch” tour at 10:00am. The backstage tour was fascinating, as we visited the costume shops where costume and wig makers were busy at work. Opening night’s performance of Candide presents added challenges for the costume shop, as the set has been made to represent Voltaire’s desk. All characters emerge from giant sized books on stage, so the costume designers wanted all costumes to look like they were made from pages of Voltaire’s writings. Paper proved to be too noisy, so the costumes (and even some wigs!) were made from Tyvek!. The Ranch tour immediately following was a wonderful insight as to how such a famous venue got started back in 1957 by one man with a vision, John Crosby, who purchased the land 7 miles outside of Santa Fe overlooking the San de Cristo Mountains.
The sport of tailgating is taken to new levels in the parking lot, beginning up to three hours before performance. The people-watching alone is worth the early arrival, as attendees seem to try to outdo each other with their fancy table settings and gourmet spread. Although tailgating falls into that category of “a little too awkward to do solo,” I wasn’t going to miss the experience, so I made a stop at the Whole Foods for some parking lot snacks and bubbly.
The performance is timed to coordinate with sunset. It would take me another entire blog post just to describe what an outdoor opera venue is like. Perhaps the way to say it best is that I walked straight to the box office after the performance and bought a ticket for the second night, Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. I hope I never forget feeling the gentle warm breeze carrying the musical notes through the night air while I watched the sky turn pink to lavender to red to match the deepening hue of the cherry blossoms on set. Spellbinding.
It’s odd how one’s priorities work, as I have no problem shelling out a chunk of my monthly budget for a night at the opera, yet I balk at paying $47 a night for an RV Park in town for services I don’t need. So the Camel Rock Casino’s gravel lot, though rutty and a little dusty, provided a quiet, safe place to park for my back to back visits to the opera.
And should a ticket to the Santa Fe Opera prove to be cost-prohibitive, a little-advertised ticket option is a “standing ticket” for only $15. You have a rail to lean on complete with subtitles, and a rail to rest your feet. And it is considered common practice to ask any patrons for their ticket stubs who might be leaving after the first act, potentially netting you a prime seat for not much more than the price of a movie ticket.
And of course, no visit to Santa Fe is complete without spending time with Georgia O’Keefe. Her small intimate museum offers an extensive collection of her work, including several of the large scale florals for which she is most famous. But they also have on display some of her lesser known works such as her views from her world travels, as well as her later works, views seen outside the airplane.
O’keeffe struggled to keep her story about her art, not her personal life stating, “”Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.” In that aspect, I would say she was successful, as I am quite familiar with her art, but knew nothing about the woman until I visited the museum. In fact, I didn’t even realize she was married to the famous photographer and NYC gallery owner, Alfred Stieglitz. Nor did I realize she had spent time in Mexico with Frida and Diego.
Her large scale, close-up intimate paintings peering into the fleshy folds of flower pedals were often thought to reflect her sexuality, a premise I have often heard. But in fact, she was offended by this interpretation saying, “When people read erotic symbols into my painting, they’re really thinking about their own affairs.”
O’Keeffe suffered from macular degeneration, but continued to paint and sketch until she was 90. She lived from 1887 to 1986, and was 98 years old when she died at her home in New Mexico.
During her relationship with Stieglitz, 25,000 pages of correspondence were written between them, many which have been published. During the 2019 season at the Santa Fe Opera, Renee Fleming is performing a one night production of “Letters from Georgia” whereby she puts Georgia O’Keefe’s correspondence to orchestral score. A true opportunity to experience “O’Keefe and the Opera,” all in one night. Just when I thought I had another item crossed off the bucket list….