Santa Fe Opera (SFO) is an American opera company, located 7 mi north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. After creating the Opera Association of New Mexico in 1956, its founding director, John Crosby, oversaw the building of the first opera house on a newly acquired former guest ranch of 199 acre.
The company has presented operas each summer festival season since July 1957, and is internationally known for introducing new operas as well as for its productions of the standard operatic repertoire. Since its inception, Santa Fe Opera has staged 43 American premieres and 15 world premieres, as of 2017.
After founding the New Mexico Opera Association, New York-based conductor John Crosby founded the Santa Fe Opera in 1956. With money from his parents, he purchased the land and paid for the buildings. He wanted to give American Singers learning and performance opportunities that culminated in a summer festival seasons. From 1957 to 2000, Crosby served as general director for the Santa Fe Opera, the longest general directorship in U.S. opera history.
The Opera's schedule today closely follows the structure Crosby set in the early years. Seasons run annually from late June or early July until the third week of August, and a rotation of five operas is presented. Of the five operas, two are popular pieces that open the season. Then either and American or world premiere is included in the program, and sometimes the piece is commissioned by the company. The fourth is usually a piece by Strauss, as Crosby was a lifelong fan of the operas of Richard Strauss. Lastly, the fifth opera is typically a rarely performed work. World premieres here include Theodore Morrison's Oscar (2013), Jennifer Higdon's Cold Mountain (2015), and Mason Bates' and Mark Campbell's The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (2017).
As part of Crosby's goal to support the education of opera singers, he created the Apprentice Singer Program in the Opera's first season. This provided living expenses for eight young performers who were also paid to be members of the chorus and to understudy major roles. Over 1,500 aspiring opera singers have participated in the program. In 1965, the Apprentice Program for Technicians was added.
The Santa Fe Opera has approximately 150 acres of land, which has been home to three theatres. Each theatre has been located on the same site that gives the audience a Westward view of the horizon. The first two theatres were completely open air, leaving the company and the audience vulnerable to the elements. This caused occasional cancellations or extended intermissions, and ultimately was part of the decision to build the third theatre.
The three theatres are unique in the fact that there is no fly system to allow for scene to be lowered from above, there is no proscenium arch, no curtain, no space for subtitles and the sides of the house are open. Performances begin close to sunset so that the open concept of the house does not compromise the lighting.
The first theatre was created in 1957 and stood until 1967. In order to find the site for the theatre, Crosby and his acoustician friend fired off a series of rifle shots to identify the perfect natural location for an outdoor theatre. At the time it was the only outdoor theatre that was designed solely for opera. The company's inaugural performance was presented here on July 3, 1957 to a sold-out crowd. On July 27, 1967 a fire destroyed the original theatre. The second theatre was built in 1968. It was another open-air facility, but it could seat 1,889 (much more than the original 480). The opening piece here was also Puccini's Madama Butterfly.
The present theatre was built in 1998 and named after James Crosby. With fewer storm-related problems (and, with a higher stage roof providing a better view of the Westward landscape), the theatre now seats 2,128 plus 106 standees, although it has a strikingly intimate feel. It added a wider and more complete roof structure, with the new front and rear portions supported by cables and joined together with a clerestory window. This offers protection from the sky, but with the sides remaining open to the elements.
Cover image "Crosby Theatre looking South" by Vivaverdi - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24066051