Santa Fe Opera -
santa fe opera

Attending a performance at the storied Santa Fe Opera is an essential part of summer for many, including those who travel from across the country to visit. Where else can you watch a world-class performance while also seeing the sunset or perhaps even a distant thunderstorm? If you’re visiting and want to maximize your opera experience, August provides the unique opportunity to see five different operas in five days.

2023 Santa Fe Opera Season

The season line-up includes the opera’s first new production of Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in 35 years; a new production of Tosca inspired by surrealist artist Giorgio de Chirico and Alfred Hitchcock; the first performance of Pelléas et Mélisande since 1977; the company premiere of Antonin Dvořák’s Rusalka directed by Sir David Pountney; and the world’s oldest opera, Orfeo, in a new production directed by MacArthur Fellowship winner Yuval Sharon.

The Santa Fe Opera’s General Director, Robert K. Meya, says, “Looking toward the 2023 season at the Santa Fe Opera, we’re thrilled to offer audiences five beautiful new productions. From the enduringly popular Tosca and the haunting beauty of Pelléas et Mélisande to the supernatural allure of The Flying Dutchman and Rusalka and the timeless myth of Orfeo, this season promises to be an unforgettable experience for all who attend. As always, we are committed to bringing the highest artistic excellence and innovation standards to our stage, and we can’t wait to share the upcoming season with opera lovers and newcomers here in New Mexico and from around the world.”

Opera season 2023 kicks off Friday, June 30, with a performance of Tosca. In July, performances are Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with Monday added on the last day of the month. Throughout August, you can attend performances Tuesday through Saturday, with another Monday on August 7 and Apprentice Scenes on Sunday, August 13 and 20. The season ends Saturday, August 26, as it began, with Tosca.

Apprentice Scenes performances are the chance for the opera’s apprentices to shine. Scenes from multiple operas are performed in one evening, all by apprentices who have been learning from the best all summer. The opera also has a long-standing apprentice program for backstage craftspeople who refine their skills at a unique, and busy, facility.

Santa fe opera
Photo by Curtis Brown for the Santa Fe Opera.

Tickets and Accessibility

Ticket prices range from $45 to $385, depending on seating location. For accessibility, there are areas for wheelchair seating and sections that don’t require using stairs to reach the seats, which are listed on the ticketing portion of the website. In addition, large print and Braille synopses of the performances are available upon request.

The Theater

The comfortable venue has open sides, with a roof covering the audience and the stage. When the stage back is open, you can see the Jemez Mountains in the background, blending nature and art into one spacious setting.

However, despite the exposure to the elements, the Santa Fe Opera has never canceled a performance due to the weather. Intelligent design helps, including special wind baffles that split and reduce the wind and help divert the rain.

The Santa Fe Opera offers 2,126 seats, plus 106 standing-room stations. Don’t worry if you aren’t multilingual because on the back of seats in front of each audience member is an electronic libretto system providing translations of the performance into English or Spanish.

Behind the Scenes

Opening weekend offers two different operas being staged, and by July 5, attendees can choose from three different operas over four days. Unlike most venues that set up a stage for the run of the show, the Santa Fe Opera team works feverishly overnight to change the entire stage in time for the lighting crew
to set lights before the sun comes up. It’s really quite amazing!

Think, too, about the vast array of costumes needed. The opera’s storerooms are filled with thousands of costumes, organized by type and era (“17th-century bloomers, cotton”). Costumes, wigs, and props are created on-site by master craftspeople. In the paint shop, the walls are built flat on the ground and there is a balcony to visualize them as they will look standing upright. Every piece of furniture is built especially for the rigors of being used on an outdoor stage and to ensure the correct perspective for the audience. More than 700 employees work during the season to prepare for your night of opera magic.

Special Opportunities


Santa FE opera
Photo by C. Kate Russell

When you think of tailgating, your mind may go to sporting events, but tailgating is a tradition at the Santa Fe Opera. Bring a table, chairs, and even a candelabra if you want! Park your car and set up your meal in a location with dramatic views. The parking lot opens three hours prior to performances to allow plenty of time to enjoy your tailgating party. Picnic tables near the parking lot are available on a first come, first-served basis.

You can bring your own meal or, at least two days in advance, order a picnic from the opera. Sampler boxes and dinner boxes are available and you can view the menu on the opera’s website. Vegan and gluten-free options are also available.

Opening Night Dinners

On three nights, July 15 (Pelléas et Mélisande), 22 (Rusalka), and 29 (Orfeo), you can take advantage of a special opportunity to enjoy an opening night dinner on the opera’s gorgeous grounds and prepared by the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado. Experience a meal with members of the opera’s creative team and other special guests. Tickets for dinner ($275 per person) do not include the performance, which must be purchased separately.

Preview Dinners

Not into tailgating? Make a reservation for a buffet dinner in an open-air cantina on the opera grounds. A speaker will introduce the opera while you enjoy dessert.

Prelude Talks

Free for ticket holders, prelude talks are given two hours and one hour before most performances, with some exceptions. These talks dive deep into the story being performed that evening and are held in Stieren Orchestra Hall (except for nights when only one talk is given in the theater).

Backstage Tours

Don’t miss the opportunity to learn the inner workings of the opera with a backstage tour. Tours are Monday through Saturday at 9 a.m. in June, July, and August (with exceptions listed on the website). Tickets are $10 for adults and free for those aged 6 to 22. Reservations are encouraged. Then you can see for yourself what goes into making the opera magic happen.

Summer Gala

On August 12, the opera is holding a summer gala at the Eldorado Hotel for an evening of delicious dining, delightful entertainment, and dancing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pueblo Opera Program. Tickets start at $1,250.

The Details

santa fe opera tailgating
Photo by C. Kate Russell

What to Wear to the Opera

Well, it’s the opera, so you can dress to the nines if you like! But since it’s Santa Fe, jeans and boots are also quite appropriate. Keep in mind that the venue is outdoors and that the temperature quickly cools when the sun goes down, so bring a jacket or even a lap blanket. It’s no fun shivering while you’re trying to enjoy the opera. You can bring along an umbrella in case a monsoonal rain comes in when you’re heading to your car.

Getting to the Opera

The opera is seven miles north of downtown Santa Fe. You can park for free (then tailgate if you choose) or book a shuttle through the opera website by 3 p.m. the day before your visit. The shuttle will deliver you to the opera 30 minutes before the performance.

Opera History in a Nutshell

The Santa Fe Opera’s inaugural performance was Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on July 3, 1957. The opera company was founded by John Crosby, a New York based conductor, with support from his parents. Crosby’s vision was to present a variety of operas each season: a mix of popular operas, an American or world premiere, and a rarely performed work — a programming model the company maintains to this day.

The original opera building seated 480 people, but it was destroyed by fire in 1967. Only one performance was missed before everything moved to a high school theater for the remainder of the season. The second theater opened in June of the next year with Madama Butterfly. It was used until the current theater, named for the Crosby family, again opened with a performance of Madama Butterfly in 1998. In addition to a tradition, perhaps the idea of something new springing into life was part of the reason for the choice of operas.

Learn more and reserve your tickets here.


Story by Cheryl Fallstead | Photos courtesy Santa Fe Opera

Top photo by Robert Godwin for the Santa Fe Opera.

Originally published in Neighbors magazine

This article was posted by Olivia

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