02 aug opera sfo mini revs 1

David Leigh (King Hjarne) and Kenneth Cook (young Corbin) in The Thirteenth Child, photo Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

The Thirteenth Child

8 p.m. Aug. 9, 14, and 21

When the Santa Fe Opera co-commissioned The Thirteenth Child, they knew what they were getting: The score had already been completed and a commercial CD was in the works. One has to wonder how it went so wrong. Despite several attractive aspects, the Brothers Grimm fairy tale-based piece felt more like the outline of an opera than a fully realized work. Important moments of storytelling or potential suspense were raced through or skipped altogether, preventing the audience from connecting with the characters — or even understanding the trajectory of the story. Set design, costumes, and projected imagery were strong elements, but theatrical magic was in short supply when it was most needed, especially in the crucial second act. ( July 29)

Jenu˚fa

8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, 6, and 15

Jenu˚fa, Leoš Janácˇek’s first masterpiece, is a solid production. The most rewarding aspects are the restless, passionate, and lyrical score, and superb performances by Richard Trey Smagur and Patricia Racette in two of the four leading roles. The plot may sound like an episode of Law & Order, with its two heinous crimes (including the murder of a newborn), but the opera’s true theme is the transformative power of forgiveness, which is brilliantly evoked by the composer in the finale. David Alden’s updated staging moves the action from the 1890s to the grim 1950s in Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia, which obscures some important themes in Janácˇek’s vision (and won’t be to all tastes). The performers bring out the opera’s dramatic intensity, although the orchestra overbalances the singers at times. And unfortunately, many of the design concepts have already appeared in Così fan tutte and La bohème. They make sense in Jenu˚fa, but it’s too bad that these similarities are repeated in the same season. ( July 20)

Così fan tutte

8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 5, 13, and 22

Così fan tutte is a bracingly conceived and beautifully sung new production. Opera purists who demand fidelity to the original time and place won’t be pleased, but those interested in a deep exploration of the characters’ emotional worlds through a contemporary, high-concept approach will find ample rewards. Stage director R.B. Schlather emphasizes the opera’s immediacy and universality, aided by brilliant scenery, costume, and lighting design, and by the cast’s emotionally vulnerable, strikingly realistic acting. SFO music director Harry Bicket led a musically persuasive performance, successfully achieving a sense of late-18th-century performance style with modern instruments. The reduced string section played with clarity, providing textures that brought Mozart’s matchless writing for winds and brass to the fore. ( July 15)

The Pearl Fishers (Les pêcheurs de perles)

8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8, 16, and 23

Santa Fe Opera’s 2012 production of The Pearl Fishers (Les pêcheurs de perles) was widely acclaimed and with good reason. By focusing on universal issues of power, leadership, and trust, director Lee Blakeley turned an opera that often seems like an exotic travelogue into a true human drama. Its return sees it in fine form, with one major exception. In the “title role,” the chorus of apprentice singers is superb. Scenery, costumes, and lighting offer a series of stunning tableaus. A love triangle drives the action, and two of the three sides are in very capable hands — soprano Corinne Winters and baritone Anthony Clark Evans. Unfortunately, tenor Ilker Arcayürek sang with a tight, unattractive tone, compromising several numbers, including the celebrated “Friendship Duet.” ( July 1)

La bohème

8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, 7, 12, 17, 20, and 24

The new staging of La bohème played to the company’s strengths, with its ensemble cast and a big chorus scene for the apprentices. Standout performances came from soprano Vanessa Vasquez as Mimì and baritone Zachary Nelson as Marcello, with soprano Gabriella Reyes adding a charming portrayal of Musetta. Tenor Mario Chang was an ardent Rodolfo, albeit with a voice that lacks sweetness and turns bland under pressure. Director Mary Birnbaum had a few too many thought-provoking ideas: Some worked well (especially the character arcs for the women), some fizzled out, and a few were puzzling. No lasting harm was done by the latter, however. Overall, it was a very good start for the season and the company’s new leadership troika. ( June 28)

The Santa Fe Opera is located at 301 Opera Drive, about six miles north of downtown Santa Fe. For tickets and other information, contact the opera at 505-986-5900 or santafeopera.org.

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