O’Keeffe and the Opera

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.

The beautiful Santa Fe Ooera House, about 7 miles north of Santa Fe.

The beautiful Santa Fe Opera House, about 7 miles north of Santa Fe.

Same view after dark. The theater holds just over 2,000 attendees.

Same view after dark. The theater holds just over 2,000 attendees.

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.

Though the lower and upper roof are connected via a series of windows, the sides and back of the stage are open.

Though the lower and upper roof are connected via a series of windows, the sides and back of the stage are open to the mountains and western sky.

The set of Candide is comprised of oversized open books and pages to simulate writings of Voltaire.

The set of Candide is comprised of oversized open books and pages to simulate Voltaire’s desk.

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.

The set of Madame Butterfly. The back of the stage is open, and the set includes a setting sun, giving the viewer a "two for one" sunset.

The set of Madame Butterfly. The back of the stage is open, and the set includes a setting sun, giving the viewer a “two for one” sunset.

As the first act progresses, the lighting on the fake sun reddens to reflect colors in the sky.

As the first act progresses, the lighting on the fake sun reddens to reflect colors in the sky.

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.

I think the sport of "tailgate dining" is almost as big of a draw as the opera!

I think the sport of “tailgate dining” is almost as big of a draw as the opera!

You see everything from jeans and box dinners to tuxedos and white linen table cloths.

You see everything from jeans and box dinners to tuxedos and white linen table cloths.

The parking lot opens three hours prior to performance, and fills up immediately with tailgaters.

The parking lot opens three hours prior to performance, and fills up immediately with tailgaters.

These guys had their entire dining table in the bed of their truck!

These guys had their entire dining table in the bed of their truck!

This woman says sure I can take her photo, but "be sure to get my tiara!"

This woman says sure I can take her photo, but “be sure to get my tiara!” (sadly, it doesn’t show up in the photo.)

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.

These are my tailgating neighbors. A cute little couple from Colorado who has been driving down for opening night for the past 20 years!

These are my tailgating neighbors. A cute little couple from Colorado who has been driving down for opening night for the past 20 years!

I didn't get too fancy...just some cheese and crackers, smoked salmon, and a little bubbly. I wasn't going to miss the great people watching!

I didn’t get too fancy…just some cheese and crackers, smoked salmon, and a little bubbly. I wasn’t going to miss the great people watching!

I recently broke my only champagne glass on board, so a souvenir was in order.

I recently broke my only champagne glass on board, so a souvenir was in order.

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.

First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe, founded 150 years ago.

First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe, founded 150 years ago.

This piano player on wheels in the Plaza was incredible, playing song after song with no sheet music.

This piano player on wheels in the Plaza was incredible, playing song after song with no sheet music.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Though original church was founded in 1714, the current structure was built between 1869 and 1887.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Though original church was founded in 1714, the current structure was built between 1869 and 1887.

Large baptismal pool in center of Basilica.

Large holy water pool in center of Basilica.

Portico across from the Basilica.

Portico across from the Basilica.

Art is everywhere.

Art is everywhere.

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.

Georgia O'Keefe is best known of her large scale abstract flowers, isolating and intensifying the object.

Georgia O’Keefe is best known of her large scale abstract flowers, isolating and intensifying the subject.

"The Black Iris," 1926.

“The Black Iris,” 1926.

Her earlier works, like this Vase of Flowers, 1905, more more traditional.

Her earlier works, like this watercolor “Vase of Flowers,” painted in 1905, were more traditional.

I loved the texture in this one.

I loved the texture in this one to accentuate the hydrangea leaves.

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.

When O'Keeffe started to spend more time in New Mexico, originally moving there permanently, she began painting the landscape.

When O’Keeffe started to spend more time in New Mexico, originally moving there permanently, she began painting the landscape.

Yellow and red mountains near her home on Ghost Ranch, near Abiquiu.

Yellow and red mountains near her home on Ghost Ranch, near Abiquiu.

Following her move to New Mexico, there were few flowers in the desert, so she began collecting skulls and bones.

Following her move to New Mexico, there were few flowers in the desert, so she began collecting skulls and bones.

The curvature of the rams horns was a prominent influence in her paintings as well as sculptures.

The curvature of the rams horns was a prominent influence in her paintings as well as sculptures.

"Horns and Feathers," 1937.

“Horns and Feathers,” 1937.

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's later works reflected on her world travels, this one Machu Picchu.

O’Keeffe’s later works reflected on her world travels, this one Machu Picchu.

And abstract views of clouds and horizons as seen from the airplane window.

And abstract views of clouds and horizons as seen from the airplane window, one of the last pieces she painted.

Her painting supplies are on display in the museum.

Her painting supplies are on display in the museum.

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….

My view from the Camel Rock Casino, where there were gorgeous southwestern sunsets every night.

My view from the Camel Rock Casino, where there were gorgeous southwestern sunsets every night.

7 thoughts on “O’Keeffe and the Opera

  1. Why DO you do this to me? When we were in Santa Fe for four months in 2003, they were doing the rebuilding of the Opera House. This provided an incredible traffic hazard around the area that we seemed to fall into with every excursion. But . . . oh, boy . . . those results are certainly worth it.

    As usual, this post of yours falls smack into the “overwhelms me” category. We were already plotting a return visit to Santa Fe, but you have just pushed us over the edge.

    O’Keeffe, Stieglitz, Kahlo, Rivera, and, of course, the Westons . . . They are all over our house on the walls and in the bookcases! Your fab photos give me goosebumps of anticipation.

    Waiting for cooler weather.

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

  2. Beautiful photographs of the opera house in Sante Fe. Looks like you had a great time. Thank you for sharing your time there with all of us.

  3. Santa Fe has always held me tightly. Back in my working days I did some travel to Albuquerque and always found time to spend a day or two in Santa Fe. In 15 Deede and I spent a week there and she was as impressed as I. We drove up to and around the Opera house on that visit, but had no idea how beautifully it was designed and built. My first opera was Il Trovatore at the Met January 1961 and Leontine Price made her debut there with Franco Correli. An evening which I can still recall on a quiet evening accompanied with a bottle of cold Chardonnay. A book of Georgia Keefe’s art would finish it off very well. Thanks once again for a wonderful blog.

  4. Thank you for this post and sharing your love of opera. I had never heard of tailgate dining, delightful. I have never been to Santa Fe but will be there in October however there are no performances after mid September. Your photos and words paint a wonderful story. So glad that you went to see Madam Butterfly. What a beautiful place to listen to and watch an opera. Now on my to do list.

    By the way you can cross Santa Fe opera off your experience list.

  5. What a beautiful look at and around the opera house in Santa Fe! I had to smile at your determination to do as the Romans by setting up your own tailgating station (“field expediency” is a term that comes to mind). 🙂 I can see you sitting there happily munching and drinking the goods whilst taking in myriad ways others enjoyed a pre opera dining experience. What fun!…and what a moving experience the opera itself must have been. I was enticed! But, sadly, I will miss the opera season (short, indeed!) as I won’t be traveling to NM until October. I made it to the Georgia O’Keefe museum and Ghost Ranch somewhere back in time; it was lovely seeing images of her work again. Thank you, as always, for a lovely summation of your travels. 🙂

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