J. Robert Oppenheimer, the grand master of the Manhattan Project, will return to Northern New Mexico, at least in spirit, when Santa Fe Opera presents John Adams’ Doctor Atomic during its 2018 season.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, the company announced that it will mount six performances of a new production directed by Peter Sellars, the work’s librettist, with choreography by Lucinda Childs, in her house debut. It is to be conducted by Matthew Aucoin and will feature, in the title role, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, who appeared here two summers ago as Jochanaan in Salome.
Doctor Atomic was premiered in 2005 by San Francisco Opera (that staging was revived, with changes, in Amsterdam and Chicago), and was given by the Metropolitan Opera in 2008 in a new production that was subsequently re-envisioned for the English National Opera. Set in Los Alamos in 1945, the piece is well on its way to being embraced as an operatic classic, inviting audiences to grapple with the profound moral questions of the atomic era.
In making the announcement, Santa Fe Opera General Director Charles MacKay was joined by Dr. Charles McMillan, director of Los Alamos National Laboratories, who said, “The ethics of 1945, which I think are very graphically portrayed in Doctor Atomic, are not that different than the ones that we face today.”
In a news release, Santa Fe Opera offered this cheerful observation: “No matter how great its impact elsewhere, Doctor Atomic promises to be overpowering when performed at a place where you can gaze out at the lights of Los Alamos and at a time when we are all just minutes away from possible destruction.”
Another new production deals with philosophical issues, but in a comic framework: Candide, by Leonard Bernstein. The company is banking on strong audience appeal from this gleeful romp, and has accordingly scheduled nine performances. The first will be on the season’s opening night (June 29, 2018); the last falls on the season’s final evening, Aug. 25, 2018, the exact centennial of Bernstein’s birth.
The piece is based on Voltaire’s novella, itself a critique of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s argument that we live in “the best of all possible worlds.” Candide was premiered on Broadway in 1956, but it continued to bedevil the composer, who revised it time and again for ensuing productions. It will be presented here in the “Scottish Opera version” of 1988. By that time, the original libretto by Hugh Wheeler and lyrics by Richard Wilbur included additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Bernstein himself.
The company’s chief conductor, Harry Bicket, will conduct this production, which is directed by Laurent Pelly. Alek Shrader will be warmly anticipated as the title-role tenor, as will mezzo-soprano Helene Schneiderman, in the character role of the Old Lady, following her portrayal of the Baroness in last summer’s Vanessa. Soprano Brenda Rae is cast as Candide’s girlfriend Cunégonde.
Richard Strauss, whose works are a keystone of the company’s repertory, will be represented by a new production of Ariadne auf Naxos, not seen here since 1999. Tim Albery will direct and James Gaffigan will conduct this opera, in which an opera seria company and a commedia dell’arte theatrical troupe find a way to make their productions overlap. The cast includes Amanda Echalaz as The Prima Donna/Ariadne, Bruce Sledge as The Tenor/Bacchus, Erin Morley as Zerbinetta, Amanda Majeski as The Composer and Rod Gilfry as The Music Master.
Rounding out the season are revivals of productions previously created at the house. Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (in the handsome Lee Blakeley production unveiled in 2010) will be conducted by Jader Bignamini. The leads will be divided between two pairs of singers, soprano Kelly Kaduce and tenor A.J. Glueckert for the first four performances, Ana María Martínez and Joshua Guerrero for the ensuing seven.
Also coming back to the company’s stage is Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, which originated in the 2002 season. This production, conceived by the late Santa Fean Edward Hastings and directed by Shawna Lucey for this go-round, will feature mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack and tenor Jack Swanson, and will be conducted by Corrado Rovaris.
Tickets for the 2018 season are on sale now. As is customary, selected performances of each opera will be designated “family nights” with ticket prices discounted considerably from normal levels.
The company’s apprentice artists will be spotlighted on two August evenings, each of which involves a different selection of opera scenes.
Board President Susan G. Marineau, reporting on the company’s financial health, stated that the “Setting the Stage” capital campaign, is now within hailing distance of its target, having brought in $43.5 million of the $45 million goal.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Santa Fe Opera’s education director, Andrea Fellows Walters, announced a two-year initiative called “Tech and the West.” It will build on themes from this coming summer’s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs and the 2018 Doctor Atomic through a variety of exhibits, concerts, films, lectures and symposia developed in association with the New Mexico History Museum, Los Alamos Historical Society, Santa Fe Institute, Cinematheque at Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe, Chatter, Patina Gallery, Currents New Media and the Lensic Performing Arts Center.
The company is also launching a new incentive called “Opera for All Voices: Stories of Our Time,” through which a consortium of seven American opera companies will commission new, modestly scaled works on topics intended to engage audiences of all ages who may not have experience with, or preconceptions about, opera.
Santa Fe Opera will premiere the first of these new works, with music by Augusta Read Thomas and a libretto by Jason Kim, in 2019, although not as part of the regular summer season. The second, by composer Laura Kaminsky and librettist Kimberly Reed, is slated to be premiered in 2020 at San Francisco Opera before coming to Santa Fe and the other participating companies.
Updates on the 2017 season, which begins on June 30, include the addition of an afternoon event Aug. 25 at the Lensic. Titled “Justice at the Opera,” it will include opera scenes and arias on the subject of law and justice (sung by the company’s apprentices), followed by commentary by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is a high-profile opera enthusiast and longtime Santa Fe Opera patron. Tickets for this event will go on sale May 19.
MacKay also announced that the company’s 2017 season poster will feature “Cottonwood in Tassel,” a color woodblock print made in 1943 by Gustave Baumann, the beloved central figure of Santa Fe’s artistic community at that time. It was Baumann, said MacKay, who designed Santa Fe Opera’s original stationery.