A Night at the Opera: Santa Fe Style IX

July 12th, 2014, 7pm

By coincidence the birth of modern European opera coincides perfectly with the coming of Europeans to Pueblo country.. Indeed, Santa Fe was founded in 1607, the same year that Monteverdi composed his masterpiece L’Orfeo, one of the earliest operas in the entire repertoire. So, from a European perspective, Santa Fe probably seemed a very good place to build a major new opera house in 1957, precisely 350 years after the city itself was founded. And the SFO has indeed proved to be a substantial resource for the region and for the nation.

Of course, the Pueblo people first came to New Mexico long before operatic traditions appeared in Europe. Archeological evidence shows that this region has been inhabited for around five thousand years. And Taos Pueblo, sixty miles north, has been continuously occupied for nearly a millennium. After the founding of Santa Fe, the Spanish sought to subjugate and convert the Pueblos who numbered around 100,000 people. However, in 1680, a Pueblo revolt defeated the cruel Spanish regime and expelled the European invaders who were unable to return until 1693.

The SFO set pictured above was designed for the Beethoven opera Fidelio, a celebration of the triumph of freedom and justice over tyranny set around the time of the French revolution. The Santa Fe Opera chose to change the setting to a Nazi prison camp at the end of the second world war. Recently in Seattle and in Melbourne, Australia, productions of Fidelio were relocated to America’s Guantanamo Prison. Perhaps it would not have been entirely inappropriate to have seen — in Santa Fe — a Native American Fidelio with her Florestan unchained from a Spanish prison. And an adobe prison would have resonated far more deeply. In any case, in an opera that the composer himself tirelessly revised, and in an opera which has been described as ‘among the most perennially “relevant” operas in the repertory’ it would have certainly added a freshness to the composer’s commitment to the high minded principles with which the opera deals.

By the way, if you want to see how much I actually enjoyed the performance of the SFO Fidelio, click here.

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David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (http://www.cimarron.com.au)

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