By Peter Pabisch
"Beautiful music makes history, history makes beautiful music," this motto for the summer of 2013 continues the proud tradition of this world class opera house that has established itself in the most unique location of the last half century. In Austria it would tower on top of "Schneeberg" and "Rax," the two home mountains near Vienna, since Santa Fe lies in seven thousand feet altitude in the Southwest of the United States. As this city was the most northern official administrative center for Spain until 1821, Santa Fe and Vienna were legally in one huge empire under Habsburg rule from the 1540s to 1700, one can hardly believe it!
Although John Crosby’s decision to build his opera house in Santa Fe had nothing to do with this historical connection between America and Europe, the annual summer programs could be from a common planning committee because of their similarity. Of course they are not, but the closeness in cultural tradition becomes evident when one considers that Gustav Mahler had a great deal to do with the growth of the MET, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, in the last years of his life from 1907 to 1911, after he had directed the Vienna opera in the decade before (1897 to 1907). SFO founder John Crosby attended the MET in his youth and young adult years in the nineteen forties and fifties when a certain tradition was still adhered to that again, albeit anew can be discovered in Santa Fe – with the addition of contemporary opera trends having turned the house into one of the truly progressive temples of opera culture on the globe. As a consequence, this summer house and its cultural surroundings allow the comparison with other locations of the kind, as for example in Austria, first of all with Salzburg and its annual summer festival since 1920.
There Max Reinhardt, Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal were the famous members of this triumvirate to establish this almost centennial focus of the arts. Coincidently these masters’ tradition of theatrical and musical high performances continued in Santa Fe, a center especially for Richard Strauss operas internationally. Arabella turned out to be one of the highlights in last summer’s offerings, with Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s original German libretto. As an annual event one Austrian is always represented - as Mozart and his The Marriage of Figaro will be in 2013. Altogether Mozart literally is the most popular composer in Santa Fe where all his operas have been performed since the beginning of the house, followed in numbers of appearance altogether by those of Richard Strauss, Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Igor Stravinsky, or Gioachino Rossini. Yet there exists a longer list of more Austrian – or Austro-Hungarian composers with one to several summers of their work presented in New Mexico from Johann Strauss, Jr. (Die Fledermaus), to Erich Wolfgang Korngold (Violanta), Franz Lehár ( The Merry Widow), Arnold Schoenberg (Erwartung, Die Jakobsleiter, Von Heute auf Morgen), Alban Berg (Lulu – in zwei und in drei Akten, Wozzeck), or Alexander von Zemlinsky (A Florentine Tragedy).
Most noteworthy at the Santa Fe Opera is the combination of highest opera culture with a unique dedication by all the donors, visitors and, of course, the capable leadership of general director Charles MacKay. He is assisted by his admirable artistic and administrative staff, including the untiring crew of the Press & Public Relations Office with Joyce Idema as its director. There are special programs offered to see all the five operas of the program each summer in one unforgettable week, which also allows the visitor to enjoy the entire cultural atmosphere of fine arts, music and local ambience of Santa Fe in one swoop.