Harry Bicket

Harry Bicket has been chosen as The Santa Fe Opera's new chief conductor for the 2014 season. Courtesy photo

Liverpool-born and Oxford-educated Harry Bicket will be The Santa Fe Opera’s next chief conductor, general director Charles MacKay announced Wednesday.

MacKay also announced the repertoire for 2014, the 58th season, which will include five new productions for the SFO.

Frédéric Chaslin, who was named chief conductor in 2010, resigned suddenly last summer. The chief conductor maintains orchestral standards and conducts some productions.

Bicket, 52, was named artistic director of the English Concert, a baroque orchestra, in 2007 and has appeared in opera houses and concert halls throughout the world, including Covent Garden, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A Handel specialist, he conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in this season’s Giulio Cesare, which will be presented live in a high-definition simulcast Saturday at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

Bicket’s most recent appearance in Santa Fe was as conductor of Radamisto in 2008. Earlier this year, he conducted the opera at Carnegie Hall with most of the cast from The Santa Fe Opera production.

MacKay, who said Bicket has committed to the company for the next four to five years, called Wednesday’s announcement “truly a great day for The Santa Fe Opera.”

Kenneth Montgomery, who made his debut here in 1982 and has conducted 17 operas in Santa Fe since then, has been named conductor laureate for the 2013 season. Last year, he led the opera orchestra in the “Susan Graham and Friends” concert.

Bicket admitted Wednesday that he didn’t know what to expect when he first came to Santa Fe, but “I was very quickly seduced by the Santa Fe magic.”

He told the news conference audience that when he was discussing The Santa Fe Opera with the administrative director — or intendant — of a German opera company, the man remarked, “Once you’ve been to Santa Fe, why ever would you want to go to Glyndebourne?” (Glyndebourne is a summer festival in East Sussex, England).

“Santa Fe,” Bicket added, “has always seemed to me to be an oasis of artistic excellence,” and “it was a job I couldn’t turn down.”

Bicket will start in October and is scheduled to conduct next season’s Fidelo. He will continue to lead the English Concert.

The works announced for the 2014 season encompass four centuries — the years 1786 to 2011 — and are sung in six different languages.

Among them is a rare double-bill, The Impresario by Mozart followed by Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol. They are set in 1920s Paris, and the singers and creative team are the same for both operas. The last double-bill, MacKay said, was in 1993.

The company will also present the American premiere of Dr. Sun Yat-sen by the Chinese American composer Huan Ruo, which will be sung in Mandarin.

The opera commemorates the centennial of China’s 1911 revolution and was commissioned by Warren Mok, artistic director of Opera Hong Kong, who will sing the title role in the Santa Fe production. MacKay said he met with Mok during a recent trip to China and that Mok studied at the Manhattan School of Music while John Crosby, the late founder and general director of the SFO, was its president. And Mok looks very much like the character he will play, MacKay added.

There was a story, too, about Anna Caterina Antonacci, who is scheduled to sing Carmen here in 2014. Her Carmen at the Royal Opera House in 2006 was described in the London Daily Mail as “voluptuous and witty, passionate and wily … ” She’s a big star in Europe but has seldom appeared in the U.S. MacKay and Brad Woolbright, director for artistic administration, talked about casting her in Carmen, but assumed she was never available. In the end they decided, “Heck, let’s ask her,” and she accepted.

MacKay said the opera is currently “financially stable” with a $20 million annual budget and aiming for a balanced budget this year. Administrative staff have recently moved into renovated offices at the opera ranch funded by a 2006 capital campaign, which raised $3.5 million and paid for improvements to the cantina and grounds as well as a rehearsal hall (named for former general director Richard Gaddes) and vocal studios. (During the demolition, MacKay said, a July 29, 1929, edition of The New York Times, used as insulation, floated down from the roof. The headline alerted readers to the fact that President Herbert Hoover was taking his wife to a Red Sox game.)

In 2012, the company filled 90 percent of seated capacity for the five operas, with Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers the season hit. For that opera, the SFO sold 101 percent of capacity (with some tickets donated back for resale). It continues to emphasize c0-productions and is working on finding partners for three of the operas in the 2014 season. This season’s Oscar is a co-production with Opera Philadelphia.

Also new for the upcoming season is a tailgate contest. Although last season’s parking-lot tailgate parties were reported to be subdued compared to previous years, at times the pre-opera picnics organized by operagoers out of the backs of their cars and trucks have included gourmet food and silver candelabra — and even elaborate costumes inspired by the evening’s production. To honor that spirit, the opera plans a first-ever contest prior to the June 28 opening night performance of the comic opera The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein.

Prizes will be offered in several categories for the most original, fanciful and fabulous creations, and there will be a grand prize for “Best in Show.” Participants will have their photos taken, and judges will make their choices, with winners announced during intermission. Classical KHFM, an Albuquerque radio station, plans to broadcast live from the parking lot during the contest. Entries will be accepted after June 1 by email to tailgatecontest@santafeopera.org. More information will be on the opera website at www.santafeopera.org.

Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or aconstable@sfnewmexican.com.

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