Sensational Santa Fe: Where Carmen meets Don Pasquale

2014-05-20T06:00:00Z 2014-05-21T17:47:08Z Sensational Santa Fe: Where Carmen meets Don PasqualeLois Berger nwitimes.com
May 20, 2014 6:00 am  • 

When my friends and I would talk about our favorite places to visit, I could

only listen while they all (and I mean all) raved about Santa Fe. “What?” they would gasp, “You have never been to Santa Fe?” Well, I have never been to Shanghai, Singapore, or Katmandu, but no one cared or commented, so what was so special about Santa Fe? “If you want to know,” chirped Susanne, “just go there…and since you love opera, the best time is during their opera season, which is unprecedented.”

So I reached out to Esther, the operaphile. She knows when the diva hits one little wrong note and has actually seen Wagners Ring Cycle twice! She can tell you what Rossini ate for breakfast and how Verdi had a secret mistress. She loves opera from her heart and was the perfect person to accompany me to scintillating, sensational, sophisticated Santa Fe.

We flew into Albuquerque, rented a car, and drove to Santa Fe. Actually, there is a train from there, so don’t bother with a car. Once you are situated in a hotel, there are buses that take you everywhere, including the opera.

We settled in at the Sage Hotel, which was in a perfect location next to Whole Foods so we didn’t have to eat out all the time. When we did, the food was great and so were the restaurants. We couldn’t wait to go to the opera and see the famous opera house. During our stay, the operas included the world première of Oscar, a two-act work depicting the life of Oscar Wilde; a new production of Offenbach’s comedy The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein; as well as Rossini’s La Donna Del Lago and revivals of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Verdi’s La Traviata.

This year general director Charles MacKay announced a repertory this season (June 27-Aug. 23) of six new productions: Beethoven, Fidelio; Bizet, Carmen; Donizetti, Don Pasquale; Mozart, The Impresario; Stravinsky, Le Rossignol; (two shorter operas paired as a double bill) and an American premiere by Huang Ruo, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. Go online to santafeopera.org/index.aspx for information about the performances, artists, tickets and much more.

However, it’s not only the fact that the production by one of America’s premiere summer opera festivals is what visitors have been drawn to experience. The jewel illuminating the productions is the spectacular Santa Fe Opera House. The high desert landscape of Santa Fe is breathtaking. Everywhere you look you see beautiful mountains and the most gorgeous sky. The opera house blends in harmoniously with this landscape, creating a fusion of nature art that leaves an enduring impression on all who come. More than half the audience of 85,000 comes from outside New Mexico, representing every state in the union as well as 25 to 30 foreign countries.

Renamed “The Crosby Theater” after the founder John Crosby, following his death in 2002, the theatre which seats 2,128 plus 106 standees was designed by the architectural firm headed by James Polchek of New York. Although it has a strikingly intimate feel, unlike a conventional opera house or theatre, there is no fly system to allow for scenery to be lowered from above, there is no proscenium arch, the sides of the house are open, and the rear of the stage is completely opened to provide westward views, which adds to the drama of a performance as wild desert lightning competes with the spectacle onstage. More social aspects of the performance starting time include giving opera-goers the opportunity to observe New Mexico sunsets against the surrounding landscape and the tradition of tailgate dining.

Operagoers can also enjoy dinner, at the open-air cantina on the grounds. A guest speaker offers an informative talk about the evening’s opera during the desert course. Also, noteworthy, is the renowned Bishops Lodge nearby which offers a grand pre-Opera special of appetizer, entrée and dessert.

Of course, there’s much more to experience on a visit to Santa Fe.Think of this New Mexico city as a large collection of historic artistic and architectural gems. A must see is the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, which is the only museum in the world dedicated to an internationally known American woman artist. More examples of which are displayed at the New Mexico Museum of Art. The early Pueblo Revival-style building houses 20,000 regional masterpieces.

Don’t miss the The Palace of the Governors. It remains the nation's oldest public building still in continuous use. It displays contemporary Native American art in all its forms and represents the largest collection of Indian artists in the country who sell their wares under its historic portal. The jewelry is an amazing array of rare gemstones, handmade gold and Native American silver jewelry, gemstone beads, collector quality fossils and minerals… something of interest for everyone.

The Museum of Fine Arts, New Mexico's oldest museum is fascinating. For more than eighty-five years the Museum has collected and exhibited work by artists from New Mexico and elsewhere; The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture showcases a permanent exhibition tracing the life of American Indians, curated in part by Native American elders and scholars. Then, there’s my favorite…The Museum of International Folk Art which features ethnic crafts from hundreds of cultures. Noted for its Hispanic heritage wing and the Girard Collection, the museum contains the largest collections of folk art in the world. For complete information about all the museums, check out santafem.info/museums.htm

Then, get ready for dining! Especially, if some like it hot, the Santa Fe question is, "Red or green?" The reference is to chili, with green chili hotter, red more pungent. Try them both at restaurants on the Plaza. The Blue Corn Café serves typical New Mexican food like tamales, enchiladas and tacos as well as their own house-brewed beer. Coyote Café has earned a reputation for adding creativity to New Mexican standards, like porcinis and prawns over corn cakes or rib-eye steak with chili onion rings. For other authentic popular Mexican fare, we loved Café Paquale and The Shed.

You don’t have to burn your tongue as there is a delightful array of cuisines available aside from the delicious and spicy food of northern New Mexico: Pink Adobe and La Boca offer American and French. Start your day at Clafoutis French Bakery with a crepe, one of the fluffy omelets, or les gauffres (large house waffles). A friend took us to an off-the-beaten tourist path for brunch, Counter Culture Café where the GIANT cinnamon roll, pancakes and huevos rancheros are favored by the locals.

Take a look at fodors.com/world/north-america/usa/new-mexico/santa-fe/restaurants.html to preview a variety of restaurants. In addition, check out Ten Thousand Waves, a fabulous spa where you might want to soak in an outdoor hot tub, indulge in a massage or enjoy the wonderful Izanami restaurant.

For other hotels, I asked my Santa Fe aficionado friends, who recommended the following: The Loretto, Eldorado, La Pasada, La Fonda, Inn of the Governors and Garrets Desert Inn. This season, The Four Seasons Resort, Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, offers a special opera package. If you want to get details from a knowledgeable source, The Santa Fe Convention and Visitor’s Bureau santafe.org tells all.

Of course, visitors love Santa Fe's art scene. One of the world’s finest, drawing from the rich blend of American Indian, Hispanic and Western artistic traditions. Canyon Road is packed with galleries featuring traditional and contemporary themes. Chances are, you will come home with a painting or sculpture. And on The Plaza, whether you're looking for cowboy boots, Concho belts or silver and turquoise jewelry, you’ll find that and so much more in this shopper's paradise of Southwest specialties. Among the many boutiques, we found wonderful stuff at The Beat Goes On and Double Take (very cool consignment shops) and innovative fashions at Pinkcoyote, Chuperosa, Desires and Maya. My favorite was Origins: unique one-of-a-kind clothing you won’t see anywhere else. Save some time and money for The Flea at the Downs, a former horse-racing facility, now Santa Fe’s summer outdoor traditional flea market. It’s the sort of place where 50 to 100 day traders arrive weekend mornings with pickups and station wagons jammed with boots, exotic handmade beads and bangles and the occasional priceless treasure only you will crave.

As you can see, Santa Fe is a marvelous place to visit at any time, but the Opera Festival is definitely a must for Opera lovers. Take it from the lovely and talented soprano Brenda Rae, who critics raved about as Violetta in last season’s La Traviata. Lately, she performs with Oper Franfurt but again, this summer she will be featured as a “dueling diva” with soprano Erin Morley in the two shorter operas, The Impresario and Le Rossignol. Brenda said, “It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to be featured during this stunning Festival. Nowhere else in the world can opera singers enjoy the atmosphere of changing sunsets, storms and lightning while our voices harmonize with Mother Nature.”

So pack your bags, make reservations, buy tickets and then you too can admonish your friends by commenting, “What, you’ve never been to the Santa Fe Opera Festival?”

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