Unlike, say, pizza, opera is an acquired taste. Very few people pop out of their mamas' wombs and immediately start grooving to Puccini. It just doesn't work that way. Like many of the very best things in life, you have to put forth a considerable amount of effort to make sense of opera's odd little complexities. A little knowledge and experience, however, can quickly turn it into a bona fide addiction.
There are countless reasons why we're lucky to live here in New Mexico, but one certainly must be the presence of the Santa Fe Opera (SFO). Since it first began operations in 1957, this organization has developed a well-deserved international reputation for its impeccable productions. The SFO has been especially lauded for doing more than most other opera companies to keep modern opera alive by staging new works by living composers.
The 2004 season is somewhat of a rarity for the organization in that it features no contemporary selections. This, however, will make it even more accessible to opera newbies. There's never been a better time to dip your pink little toes into the steaming pool of world-class opera.
First on the roster is a production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. When first produced in 1857, the opera was a gigantic flop, but it's now often lauded among Verdi's great late period masterpieces. The title role—a magistrate in Genoa who becomes embroiled in various political intrigues—is one of the most dazzling Verdi ever created.
Next up is Mozart's Don Giovanni, one of the most recognizable and beloved works in the entire history of Western art. This musical tale of the infamous underhanded seducer will be one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the season.
Third up, the SFO is reviving its enormously popular 1998 production of Berlioz' Beatrice and Benedict. With a story lifted directly from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, this opera about the battle between the sexes is fueled by Berlioz' delicate but richly orchestrated music.
The fourth production is Agrippina, the first true operatic masterpiece by the Baroque wizard Handel, about a scheme by the wife of a Roman Emperor to place her darling son Nero on the throne. Three-dimensional characters and a very clever, twisted plot lend considerable force to this comic opera.
Bellini's La Sonnambula tops off the season with its tale about a young orphan girl who sleepwalks into another man's bedroom on the eve of her wedding. The lead role is considered one of the most perfect soprano parts ever written. The SFO role will be filled by Natalie Dessay, a singer universally regarded as one of the best in the business.
Some of the brightest young stars in the operatic universe will shine on stage this season. Don't miss this opportunity to watch them twinkle.