A night at the opera

Top, left to right, soprano Marlen Nahhas, photo Arielle Doneson; mezzo-soprano Ana Mora, photo Mario Mendoza 

Bottom, left to right, tenor Duke Kim, photo Caitlin Oldham; baritone Zachary Nelson replaces Darren Lekeith Drone, who withdre›w from the performance. The repertory is unchanged.

The familiar strains of music by Puccini, Bizet, Donizetti, and Mozart will return to Santa Fe on Friday, Dec. 24, at A Night at the Opera, a new collaboration between the Santa Fe Symphony and the Santa Fe Opera. The program of all-time favorite arias, duets, ensembles, and overtures will feature four young singers who were all apprentices in the opera’s 2021 season. They’ll be led at the Christmas Eve performance by Guillermo Figueroa, the orchestra’s principal conductor.

For Figueroa, it’s the fulfillment of a dream long deferred. He was slated to conduct a joint event involving the Santa Fe Opera and the New Mexico Symphony in 2011, but the symphony folded a month before the performance. “When I joined the Santa Fe Symphony in 2016, one of my high priorities was to resurrect the collaboration,” says Figueroa.

“Daniel Crupi, our executive director at the time, was all for it, especially since he was a professional singer, as well as an administrator. We got in touch with the opera, and they responded very favorably. I went to the apprentice scenes performances last summer to identify singers I thought would be good, then worked with David Lomelí, the opera’s chief artistic officer, on the repertory and casting the four soloists we needed.”

Mexican Lebanese soprano Marlen Nahhas comes to Santa Fe from a three-city run of Puccini’s La Bohéme with Virginia Opera in which she sang the flirtatious Musetta. Her arias on the symphony’s program will include “Quando m’en vo” (also known as Musetta’s Waltz, in which she lures back her ex-boyfriend by describing in very specific terms how desirable she is) and Adele’s Laughing Song from Johann Strauss’ operetta Die Fledermaus. Nahhas appeared in all four Santa Fe productions this summer; she also spent three seasons as a young artist with Washington National Opera, where her roles included Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata.

Ana Mora, mezzo-soprano, performed in all 2021 productions except A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Originally from Maracaibo, Venezuela, Mora just received her graduate degree in voice from the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music. For A Night at the Opera, she sings Carmen’s seductive “Seguidilla” (which she sings to gain her freedom after having been arrested) and joins Nahhas for the Flower Duet from Madame Butterfly.

As Lysander, one of the four young lovers in Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, tenor Duke Kim made one of the most impressive leading role debuts at the opera this season. (Opera News called him “fresh of voice and of face.”) His solo contribution to the program is “Una furtiva lagrima,” one of the world’s most famous tenor arias, from Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love; he and Nahhas provide the program’s finale with “O soave fanciulla,” the love duet for Mimì and Rodolfo that ends the first act of La Bohéme.

Baritone Darren Lekeith Drone [who left the production close to press time; he was replaced by Zachary Nelson] is highlighted in the program’s most dramatic selection, Count Almaviva’s big solo from Act III of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. The Count thought he had maneuvered Susanna, Figaro’s fiancé, into a one-nighter with him but discovered he’d been played for a fool, and his aria ranges through shock, bewilderment, and jealousy, ending with a gleeful vow of vengeance. Drone also sings Pagliacci’s dramatic prologue, in which he tells the audience that what they are about to see is a true-to-life story, not mere playacting.

The orchestra takes full focus for four selections, including the overtures to The Marriage of Figaro and Die Fledermaus and the “Danse Bacchanale” from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah. All four soloists join the orchestra for the Champagne Chorus from Die Fledermaus, which will end the concert’s first half with appropriate effervescence. (Speaking of which, Figueroa dropped a little hint that there might be an encore at the concert’s end, and it might involve champagne somehow.)

“Spending Christmas Eve with talented instrumentalists from the symphony and singers from the opera is the perfect way to celebrate a beautiful art form and the holidays,” Symphony Executive Director Emma Scherer says. “Santa Fe is a city that loves opera, and we’re excited that this collaboration allows us to offer even more of it to our audiences. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it really is a win-win situation for everyone. Collaborations such as this are key to our future, and we hope it will become a tradition.” 

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