THE HISTORY OF THE SANTA FE OPERA

Darlene Streit

The History of the Santa Fe Opera

Founded by John Crosby, the Santa Fe Opera was founded in 1956 with the first performance taking place on July 3, 1957. That performance was Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

The Santa Fe Opera has grown into a destination for tens of thousands of people. Every year 85,000 people visit the Santa Fe Opera, which the Wall Street Journal calls “the Rolls-Royce of American summer opera festivals.”

It’s a title well earned. But before we get to the future, lets first visit the past:
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Santa Fe Opera Theatres

The site of the Santa Fe Opera has been the same since 1957. It was chosen with great care as Crosby and a friend used rifle shots to test sound and acoustics. While the site has remained the same, there have been three different Santa Fe theaters. The first theatre lasted from 1957 to 1967 when it was destroyed by a fire. The theatre was rebuilt in 1968 with seating being boosted from 480 to 1,889 due to the popularity of the venue. To celebrate the opening night of the new theatre, the Santa Fe Opera put on the production of… Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

The second theatre, which included many expansions to accommodate backstage, scenery, and storage facilities lasted until the end of the season in 1997. The theatre was torn down to make room for a much bigger auditorium. It reopened in 1998 and the performance chosen for the opening was, once again, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.  Theatre seating was increased from 1,889 seats to 2,128 seats plus a standing area.

Crosby served as the general director of the Santa Fe Opera from 1956 to the turn of the century – 2000. That became the longest run for an opera general director in American history.

​​​​​​​After the death of John Crosby in 2002, the theatre was renamed to “Crosby Theatre.”

Santa Fe Opera Performances

Since 1957 there have been more than 2,100 performances of 172 different operas at the Santa Fe Opera. The Santa Fe Opera has become world-renowned not just for its facilities, but also for its training and original works. To date, the Santa Fe Opera has put together almost 20 world premieres. One of the most anticipated premieres was the 2017 production of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, an opera about a modern-day tech guru. That opera also won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.

For a full list of every opera performed since 1957, check out this Wikipedia article.
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2020 Cancelation

In the history of the Santa Fe Opera, it had never missed a season until 2020. In 2020, Coronavirus COVID-19 resulted in the opera having to cancel its season that was supposed to run from July 3 to August 29. In an open letter to the public, General Director Robert Meya stated:

“It is with profound sadness that I announce today that the Santa Fe Opera has been forced to cancel its 2020 Season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This difficult but necessary decision was made with the health and safety of our staff, artists, patrons and the entire Santa Fe community at the forefront of our thoughts. I am at a loss to describe the disappointment that I myself and all my colleagues feel today. I know that we are joined by the many singers, musicians and artisans who have been tirelessly preparing for our 2020 Season when I say that our greatest regret is not being able to share in the creative process with you, our beloved patrons.”

39 performances, consisting of five operas, were to take place in 2020 including a world premiere. The season was replaced with something new… “Songs from the Santa Fe Opera,” a digital performance series celebrating the opening nights of the five originally-scheduled operas that were to comprise the 2020 Summer Festival Season. The Santa Fe Opera encouraged people tuning in online to dress up for the viewings.


Four General Directors

In over 60 years of the Santa Fe Opera, there have been only four General Directors.

  • John Crosby (1957–2000)
  • Richard Gaddes (2000–2008)
  • Charles MacKay (2008–2018)
  • Robert Meya (2018-present)


Santa Fe Opera Facilities

  • Award-Winning Crosby Theatre (for public performances)
  • Stieren Orchestra Hall
  • Campus (including offices, cantina, swimming pool, and rehearsal halls)
  • Opera Shop


Santa Fe Opera Future

The Santa Fe Opera has created a high-quality setting for operatic artists to master their crafts and for audiences to enjoy the journey. Despite the setback of 2020, the Santa Fe Opera is primed to enjoy many more decades of success and growth. And thousands of more people will receive valuable apprentice training to take their talents to new heights.

Expect to see the Santa Fe Opera adopt a stronger digital presence, including online training.

​​​​​​​Visit the Santa Fe Opera online: Santa Fe Opera

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