Tour #23: Backstage at the Santa Fe Opera

Saturday, June 29, 7:00 AM – 12:15 PM Tour Price: $55

Travel by motor coach to the Santa Fe Opera House (SFO), just north of Santa Fe. It is a state-of-the-art, open-air venue that has the Sangre de Christo and Jemez mountains as a backdrop. You will get a behind-the-scenes tour exploring many of the production and front-of-the house areas.

After creating the Opera Association of New Mexico in 1956, its founding director, John Crosby, oversaw the building of the first opera house on a newly acquired former guest ranch of 199 acres. The company has presented operas each summer festival season since July 1957, and is internationally known for introducing new operas as well as for its productions of the standard operatic repertoire. Since its inception, Santa Fe Opera has staged 43 American premieres and 15 world premieres, as of 2017.

Theatres and other facilities

There have been three theatres on the present site of The Santa Fe Opera’s approximately (now) 150 acres of land. Each has been located on the same site on a mesa, with the audience facing West toward an ever-changing horizon of sunsets and thunderstorms, frequently visible throughout many productions when no backdrops are used. Over the years, because of the first and second theatres’ exposure to weather, rains covered audiences and orchestra members (and threatened the latter’s instruments), requiring occasional cancellations, postponements, or extended intermissions. This situation, along with other factors (e.g. the general wish to improve acoustics, to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, to improve patron facilities, and to provide more seating) led to the decision to construct the third theatre.

Three key features of each of the theatres has been the fact that, 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 (and thus no curtain nor means of projecting surtitles), the sides of the house are open, and the rear of the stage may be completely opened to provide westward views.

Performances begin close to sunset, so that the lighting of the productions is not compromised by the sides of the theatre being open to the outside environment. Since the 2011 season, the starting time has been moved up by one half-hour from the original 9pm time. 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.

Crosby Theatre, since 1998

The theatre was renamed the Cosby Theatre (following the founder’s death in 2002 and reflects the contributions of both of his parents in supporting the opera festival). The present theatre was designed by the architectural firm headed by James Polshek of New York.

It was built during extensive reconstruction, which followed the tearing down of the auditorium of the 1968 theatre at the end of the opera season in late August 1997. The stage and backstage facilities such as dressing rooms and the costume shop as well as the scenery construction shop remained in place. The new theatre was completed in ten months for an early July 1998 opening of a new season. Like the previous opening nights of 1957 and 1968, it featured a performance of Madama Butterfly this time sung by Miriam Gauci, the Maltese soprano who had her debut in the same role at the SFO in 1987.

With fewer storm-related problems (and, with a higher stage roof providing a better view of the Westward landscape), the theatre now seats 2,128 plus 106 standees, although it has a strikingly intimate feel. It added a wider and more complete roof structure, with the new front and rear portions supported by cables and joined together with a clerestory window. This offers protection from the sky, but with the sides remaining open to the elements. The presence of wind baffles and, since 2001, Stieren Hall, the orchestra's rehearsal hall, has helped improve exposure on the southern, windward side of the auditorium.

In 1999, as an alternative to installing a translation system using the projected supertitles (or surtitles), an electronic titles system was installed in the Crosby Theatre. Invented by Figaro Systems of Santa Fe (and only the second one installed after the Metropolitan Opera’s Met Titles in 1995), the system provides small rectangular electronic screens in front of each patron’s seat, showing a two-line translation of the sung text in either English or Spanish. The system has the possibility of handling up to six languages.

Santa Fe Opera website

Driving time to the Opera: 1½ hours.

Tour includes:  Round-trip motor coach transportation, guided tour, muffins and coffee, taxes and gratuity.

Special Wear: None

ADA Compliant: