Five productions, including the world premiere of ‘Mr. Butterfly,’ will hit the high notes in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera’s final season begins Friday, July 1. (Courtesy of Insight Foto for Santa Fe Opera)

light pointThe Santa Fe Opera will perform new versions of classics by Bizet, Rossini, Verdi and Wagner, complete with the world premiere of “Mr. Papillon.”

Based on the Tony Award-winning play of the same name, “M. Butterfly” sprouted when composer Huang Ruo’s opera house “Dr. Sun Yat-sen” opened in Santa Fe in 2014. “M .Butterfly” will open on July 30.

“He saw the play when he was back in college at Oberlin,” SFO chief executive Robert K. Meya said.

“M. Butterfly,” playwright David Henry Hwang said he always imagined his play turned into an opera.

Santa Fe commissioned the work from both artists.

Hwang was inspired by the true story of a French diplomat (and Chinese spy) who had a 20-year romance with a Peking Opera star who carried a startling secret. The story’s many parallels to Puccini’s classic “Madame Butterfly” echo in the music of the new opera. Baritone Mark Stone interprets the role of René Gallimard. Countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim and mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu will make their company debuts.

Santa Fe Opera General Manager Robert K. Meya. (Courtesy of Santa Fe Opera)

“M. Butterfly” marks Santa Fe’s 18th world premiere. New operas tend to attract more first-time audiences, Meya said, citing “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” (2017) and “Cold Mountain” (2015).

Bizet’s most popular opera, “Carmen,” opens the season July 1 in a new production featuring three-time Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard. The opera marks its return to the Santa Fe stage after 2015’s “Cold Mountain.” Its defiant Carmen faces tenors Matthew White and Michael Fabiano, who share the role of Don José. Santa Fe last held the works in 2014.

“‘Carmen’ is a crowd favourite,” Meya said. “This will be defined in an updated framework. The director refers to it as a carnival or what we would call a carnival setting.

Leonard sang the role at the Washington National Opera in May.

Bizet wrote “Carmen” for the Opéra-Comique in Paris and premiered in 1875. But his rampant sexuality, immoral characters, and onstage murder shocked audiences to silence.

Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” opens July 2 in a setting that merges Seville and Santa Fe. The familiar, sunny colors of southern Spain mingle against the opera’s natural backdrop.

The classic account features a 20-foot-tall bust of Rossini’s head that rotates to show the interior of a house.

SFO favorite Joshua Hopkins (“Die Fledermaus”, 2017) returns as Figaro. Former SFO apprentice singers Emily Fons and Jack Swanson play Rosina and Count Almaviva.

“Falstaff” runs from July 16 to August 16. 25. (Courtesy of Benedetto Cristofani)

Opening July 16, Verdi’s comic opera ‘Falstaff’ is a co-production with Scottish Opera. Sir David McVicar’s version plays like classic Shakespearean humor tied in trickery and disguise.

McVicar’s version opened in Glasgow, then transferred to the Edinburgh Festival before moving to Santa Fe.

“Due to COVID restrictions, they couldn’t have a choir,” Meya said, “So we had to build all the costumes (for the singers) here.”

Baritone Quinn Kelsey (“Rigoletto”, 2015) plays the lead role. Alexandra LoBianco and Elena Villalón make their company debuts as Alice and Nannetta.

Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” is the composer’s first piece to hit the Santa Fe stage in over 30 years. The new version debuts July 23 with tenor Simon O’Neill as Tristan and soprano Tamara Wilson as Isolde.

The SFO last staged a Wagner opera with 1988’s “The Flying Dutchman,” which will return as part of the 2023 season.

“Tristan” is a favorite of Meya, and he started pushing for Santa Fe to produce it when he became general manager four years ago.

“It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult to find a tenor and a soprano. It’s endurance and weight.

The opera lasts four hours.

“It’s such an immersive experience that once you get caught up in it, you kind of lose track of time,” Meya explained.

“Tristan und Isolde” is the fourth opera of this year’s season. (Courtesy of Benedetto Cristofani)

Wagner wrote “Tristan und Isolde” under the double influence of the dark philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and his wife Mathilde Wesendonck. Both taught him about unfulfilled desire. He conveyed his thoughts on love, sex and death in intensely chromatic time-delayed music, complete with tidal waves of full-throated chanting. The opening of the prelude with the famous desire (“Tristan chord”) is often cited as the birth of modern music.

Ticket prices this year range from $15 to $376. Spectators are encouraged to wear a mask. The company monitors the current forest fire situation and air quality. If smoke levels reach a level of severity, the opera will be postponed.

“It will be day to day,” Meya said. “We truly pray that the efforts of the incredible firefighters and FEMA will continue to manage the fire.”

Marjorie N. McClure