General Director Richard Gaddes sounds giddy about the opening weekend of his company's new season. “We have two superstar singers performing in the first two operas,” he says, “Anne Sofie von Otter in the title role of our new production of Carmen, and Natalie Dessay as Pamina in The Magic Flute.”
The Swedish Von Otter is considered one of the most brilliant mezzos of her generation, performing regularly for the finest opera companies in the world. Her Santa Fe Opera (SFO) appearance will mark her first American performance as Carmen, a role to which she's previously brought so much volatile passion that a critic once described her as “a tiger in a flamenco frock.”
The French soprano Natalie Dessay has performed in the past for the Santa Fe Opera. Reviewers have praised her lavishly for her ability to meld fabulous singing with genuine acting into breathtaking theatrical performances.
Gaddes says the Santa Fe Opera's heightened international profile has led to the company attracting close attention from some of the best singers in the business. He's proud of the distinguished history of the company, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with the release of The Santa Fe Opera: An American Pioneer (Sunstone Press, hardcover, $45). “It's a wonderful coffee table history of the Santa Fe Opera,” Gaddes says. “It's 200 pages, filled with glorious illustrations. It's absolutely stunning. It will be available in our gift shop.”
On Saturday, Aug. 12, at 8 p.m., the opera will present a gala concert to honor the anniversary, featuring a performance by the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra and 12 very successful young singers who began their operatic careers as SFO apprentices. They'll sing popular arias from various beloved operas. The evening will be introduced by Frederica von Stade, who began her career at the SFO in 1971 and now has over 60 recordings to her credit.
SFO productions often boast eye-poppingly elaborate sets. This season, Gaddes says the set for the company's production of Jules Massenet's Cinderella is especially gorgeous. “It's an operatic version of the fairytale,” he says. “All of the sets this year are amazing, but this one might take the prize. It's absolutely magical. We've made this wonderful carriage to take her to the ball right here in our own shops. You have to see it to believe it.”
The SFO has a longstanding reputation for staging new work by living composers and librettists. This season it'll produce the American premiere of Thomas Adès' The Tempest, based on Shakespeare's play. Gaddes is very excited to stage this new production in Santa Fe. “When it was first performed in London two years ago,” he says, “it was a huge success—one of the most successful premieres in a decade.” The Santa Fe staging should be a sight to behold.
Gaddes says in one spectacular scene, two performers will emerge singing from underwater. He refuses to explain how this will be accomplished on stage, merely saying, “It's an amazing bit of stage magic.”