The Santa Fe Opera Tailgate: A Grand Tradition

Santafe.com | SantaFe.com - August 4, 2011

Santa Fe is home to the most beautiful setting in the world to experience the grandeur of opera. John Crosby’s vision of an American opera house with an educational component opened in 1957 with Madame Butterfly.  Crosby remained at the helm of the opera house until 2000, one of the longest tenures of general directorship of any opera house.

The technical and the singers’ apprenticeship programs allowed students to get, as John Crosby cited,  “...something that is almost impossible to gain…experience”. The original structure, built in l957,  burned down four weeks into the 1967 season. Rebuilt with an endowment of $2.4 million backed by Igor Stravinsky, the opera reopened again with Madame Butterfly in l968. The theatre was renovated in l998 and renamed the Crosby Theatre and, again, the opening performance was Madame Butterfly.

The opera means much more to residents of Santa Fe.  Attending a performance at the Santa Fe Opera is an event from start to finish. Make sure to come a few hours in advance of the performance to engage in the unique Santa Fe tradition of Opera Tailgating. These parties are not your usual picnic box lunch with sandwiches, soda and chips. The City Different takes the art of tailgating to new heights.

The parking lot on performance night is not only an epicurean delight for the palate, but a feast for the eye as well. Many tailgaters are season ticketholders of the opera.  You can bet if it’s an Italian opera, serious tailgaters will be passing strawberries dipped in white chocolate, prosciutto-wrapped pineapple, ravioli Florentine with pesto along with a great Italian red and of course the obligatory cold champagne.  A true opera aficionado changes the theme of the party for every performance.  Everything from the china to the glassware to the table linens reflects the performance. A sushi “extravaganza” was held in tribute by one regular group of tailgaters for Madame Butterfly.

Ann and Bill Porto from New York have been coming with friends and tailgating for five years. “Art, opera and mountains -- what could be better” is the toast they shared.  A group of visiting attorneys were wowed by the specter of tailgating at the opera. They all agreed, “Tailgating is the way to go!”

The Magee’s from Denver bought the exquisite white and silver china, the silver candelabra and sterling flatware from Goodwill just for use at the opera. Cheerily toasting with, what else champagne, their menu was grilled shrimp, filet mingon wrapped in bacon and lobster tails on a collapsible grill that looked like it escaped from the set of Star Wars.

Santa Fe sisters who had gathered up a few friends and carryout pizza in boxes and coolers  explained their regular Saturday nights were “ BBQ and a stiff Vodka,” but these tailgate virgins were hooked.  Looking around, they said the opera held new meaning for them.

An elegant tailgate dinner doesn’t mean you have to cook. Contact Bon Appétit -- Melody Achilli-Lambelet and Chef Guido have been with this innovative company for over 20 years. You can pick up a fabulously-plated meal at their booth in the parking lot.

Order at least 48 hours in advance and pick up two hours prior to show time. Entrees include pan-seared wild Alaskan Salmon, apple wood smoked pork tenderloin, barbecue duck comfit, hummus and grilled veggie wrap, grilled apple and blue cheese galette, or a prosciutto roasted tomato, brie, basil and truffle wrap.  Plan to pay $29 per person.  Just bring your candelabra and your evening is made.

If you go to the opera on the opening night of the season true tailgaters dress in the costume of the performance.  Mary Ellen Collins, whose “favorite dish is champagne,” says “...it’s the thing to do in Santa Fe”. Call the box office, get your tickets and chill the bubbly. Everyone needs a night at the Santa Fe Opera.