Alibi V.24 No.28 • July 9-15, 2015 

Get Lit

An Operatic Vision

Crosby’s life as music

A Vision of Voices: John Crosby and the Santa Fe Opera

paperback
$29.95



A Vision of Voices: John Crosby and the Santa Fe Opera
A few miles from Santa Fe, a building with sails designed to deflect the summer rain looms over the surrounding valley. Grand and reminiscent of the old gods in a Wagner opera, it has been further shaped by the music presented on its hallowed grounds. The Santa Fe Opera stands as a living reminder of what is possible in the New Mexico music community.

Though the original theater burned to the ground 10 years after the first season in 1957—after fluttering and fiery versions of productions like Madame Butterfly gave the state its first taste of high opera in the desert—the staff of artists, musicians and technicians soldiered on. Under the direction of John Crosby, the company rebuilt the venue twice, establishing itself as one of the premier opera houses in the country.

Crosby’s visionary life as founder and focus of the Santa Fe Opera is detailed in the biography A Vision of Voices: John Crosby and the Santa Fe Opera.

Craig A. Smith’s fine introduction to the man uses musical prose to illuminate that the gifts Crosby brought to our state are without equal. For those unfamiliar with the genre’s particulars, it’s also a reverent and entertaining introduction to the world of opera and art music.

Beginning with descriptions of the original theater built by Panamanian transplant and longtime Burqueño Sergio Acosta, the biography weaves the tale of Crosby’s mission to create a world-class opera house on a mesa near Santa Fe through the use of contrast. This method manifests quite cleverly and makes for an immensely readable history.

Juxtaposing local folkways with Crosby’s global life and vision, the author traces and intertwines the details of two seemingly divergent cultures into a story that portrays opera in New Mexico as an essential part of our state, its history and future.

Crosby came from the east with the intention of starting a summer festival that could be used to launch talent toward places like the Metropolitan Opera. A graduate of Yale and Columbia, the young conductor had his work cut out for him, earnestly believing the endless sky and juniper-dotted hills would provide both opportunity in and shelter from the universe of world-class opera centered in New York.

He was involved with all aspects of maintaining his vision. A Vision of Voices provides ample examples of the work Crosby did to make his dream come true. He met with local arbiters of culture, enlisted building crews and found support among players who ranged from members of Santa Fe’s musicians’ union to notables like Igor Stravinsky and Liberace.

A prodigious intellect with conservative tastes in programming, Crosby was involved in every aspect of the Santa Fe Opera. The book’s fluid style makes his overarching involvement into a fascinating series of people and events that come to life as one turns page after page.

Whether the reader is deeply ensconced in art music or a neophyte interested in how the other half lives, Smith’s book is a perfect summertime ticket to a program both profound and pleasant.

A Vision of Voices: John Crosby and the Santa Fe Opera
University of New Mexico Press, 2015
$29.95, paperback