Santa Fe Opera offers ‘best of all possible worlds’

Tuesday, July 10, 2018 10:30 PM
“Doctor Atomic” is one of the shows being staged this summer at Santa Fe Opera.

This summer, the Santa Fe Opera will join the 2018 Leonard Bernstein Centennial in a big way.

On June 29, SFO opened its 62nd season with a full production of “Candide,” Bernstein’s Broadway musical-cum-opera. Re-envisioned by French stage director and costume designer Laurent Pelly, it promises to be fresh, acerbic and memorable.

At 55, Pelly is reinventing grand opera for the 21st century. If you saw The Met Live in HD’s production of Massenet’s “Cendrillon,” you know why Pelly’s changing the opera world. In 2006, he concocted a witty Cinderella in Santa Fe in a co-production with New York’s famed opera house. Smart and sophisticated, Pelly’s inventive style seems perfect for a new “Candide.”

“Candide” hovers somewhere between grand opera and musical comedy. It opened on Broadway in 1956 and has undergone a number of transformations. What’s known as the 1988 Scottish Opera version is the one SFO has chosen to mount.

Based on Voltaire’s 1759 satirical novel about the excesses of happy-face optimism, the story centers on a young man and his fiancée, Cunegonde. They’ve been raised to believe: “Everything’s for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” But an adventure-filled journey demonstrates the opposite. Candide survives many obstacles – war, poverty, a shipwreck, an earthquake and the Spanish Inquisition. Separations, strife and a reunion finally teach a different lesson: Life is complicated, perilous and unpredictable. Chastened, Candide and Cunegonde finally seek to tend their own garden and grow old together.

Bernstein’s “Candide” had two goals: to revitalize Voltaire’s parody of shallow optimism and mock American parochialism. Created during the McCarthy era, the American version aimed at the dark heart of political paranoia. As deep-state conspiracies spread in the summer of 2018, what a good idea to stage a fresh “Candide.”

Recognizing the work’s popularity, SFO has scheduled nine performances, beginning Friday, and concluding Aug. 25 – Bernstein’s 100th birthday.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

The rest of the 2018 Santa Fe Opera Season

“Madame Butterfly,” by Giacomo Puccini, is possibly the most popular opera in the world next to “Carmen.” SFO has scheduled 11 performances. Based on an 1898 short novel, the opera concerns a teenage Japanese geisha and an American naval officer. He promises a lot but has no plans to stay. “Doctor Atomic,” by John Adams with a libretto by Peter Sellars, draws on primary sources. Set in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in summer 1945, the opera centers on the American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the fraught development of a weapon of mass destruction. Seller’s libretto draws on letters, declassified documents and poetry plus excerpts from the Baghavad Gita. Adams’ music ranges across styles, including Native American music. “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” by Gioachino Rossini, provides comic relief with a lecherous blowhard who covets a pretty young thing. The SFO production is set in the 1930s and stylistically promises Marx Brothers pranks and general hijinks. “Ariadne auf Naxos,” by Richard Strauss, offers a double fantasy, an elaborate dinner party with an operatic diversion tucked inside, the familiar play-within-a-play. Although Ariadne is traditionally a tragic figure, the girl Theseus left behind, this is not a rerun of “Madame Butterfly.” Strauss’ satirical view of love and loyalty salts the cordon bleu. Designed by another innovative director, Tim Albery, it’s a new SFO production, Each performance comes with translations delivered discreetly to each seat in LED panels. You can choose to turn them on or leave them off.
Half-hour Prelude Lectures will take place before each opera except opening night. Informative and engaging, they are generally excellent and worth attending. Performance times vary: From June 29 to July 28, operas will begin at 8:30 p.m. From July 30 to Aug. 25, operas will start at 8 p.m.

If you go

WHAT: The Santa Fe Opera, 2018 Season, five productions: “Candide,” by Leonard Bernstein; “Madame Butterfly,” by Giacomo Puccini; “Doctor Atomic,” by John Adams; “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” by Gioachino Rossini; and “Ariadne auf Naxos,” by Richard Strauss.

WHEN: Through Aug. 25.

WHERE: 301 Opera Drive, Santa Fe. Santa Fe Opera is seven miles north of the city on Highway 85. Free parking.

TICKETS: Single tickets range from $32 to $225 with group prices and packages also available. For more information, call (800) 280-4654 or (505) 986-5900; online sales, calendar and information: