Every July and August since 1957, opera lovers have been drawn to the magnificent northern New Mexico mountains to enjoy productions by one of America's premier summer opera festivals. Here, The Santa Fe Opera's dramatic adobe theater blends harmoniously with the landscape. It is this fusion of nature and art that leaves such an enduring impression on all who come. More than half the audience of 85,000 comes from outside New Mexico, representing every state in the union as well as 25 to 30 foreign countries
The Santa Fe Opera has taken its place among the world's leading opera festivals. Its mission is to advance the operatic art form by presenting ensemble performances of the highest quality in a unique setting with a varied repertoire of new, rarely performed, and standard works; to ensure the excellence of opera's future through apprentice programs for singers, technicians and arts administrators; and to foster and enrich an understanding and appreciation of opera among a diverse public. More than 2,000 performances of 164 different operas have been given here, including fourteen world premieres and 45 American premieres, among them Lulu, The Cunning Little Vixen, Capriccio, and Daphne. Recent premieres include the world premiere of Madame Mao, commissioned from Bright Sheng, in 2003, the premiere of the revised version of Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar, in 2005, the American premiere of Thomas Ades's The Tempest, in 2006, and the American premiere of Tan Dun's Tea: A Mirror of Soul in 2007. The 2008 season included the American premiere of Adriana Mater by Kaija Saariaho, whose L'amour de loin received its American premiere here in 2002. In 2009, the world premiere of The Letter by Paul Moravec was performed here. Theodore Morrison's Oscar received its world premiere in Santa Fe in 2013, and in 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon's first opera, Cold Mountain, also premiered in Santa Fe.
Casts are drawn from the world's most talented young singers, and production teams of conductors, directors, and designers are international as well. Many singers whose names are now found on the rosters of the world's leading opera houses began their careers in Santa Fe. They include Susan Graham, Patricia Racette, Joyce DiDonato, William Burden, Kristine Jepson, Michelle DeYoung, and Charles Castronovo.
The company was founded by the late John Crosby, a young conductor from New York, who had an idea of starting an opera company to give American singers an opportunity to learn and perform new roles in a setting that allowed ample time to rehearse and prepare each production. At the same time, a program for young singers who were making a transition from academic to professional life, the Apprentice Program for Singers, was begun. More than 1,500 aspiring singers have participated in the program. Many are professional performers; others are teachers and coaches at major opera companies and universities. In 1965, an apprentice program for theater technicians was added, and it too has become an important training tool.
John Crosby was succeeded as founding General Director by Richard Gaddes in 2000. Gaddes was the founding General Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Artistic Administrator of The Santa Fe Opera, and President of Grand Center, St. Louis. During his tenure in Santa Fe he implemented a wide range of new programming, including community-based productions in the off-season and simulcasts to Albuquerque and a park in downtown Santa Fe. He retired following the 2008 season when Charles MacKay became the third General Director in SFO's history. MacKay was also General Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis prior to returning to Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe Opera has a wide array of education and community outreach programs to make opera accessible and appealing to a broad spectrum of the New Mexico population. One, the unique Pueblo Opera Program, serves Native American youth from nineteen pueblos and three reservations in the state. The theater itself features 'Opera Titles' –- a small screen in front of every seat, which allows patrons to follow the stage action in either English or Spanish. The Santa Fe Opera has become one of New Mexico's cultural and economic leaders. Its reputation attracts thousands of patrons each year, and its impact on the New Mexico's economy has been calculated at more than $200 million each year.