We have booked for many of the simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera at or local “Palace”, The Lensic Theater. It was literally the Movie Palace of Santa Fe once upon a time before the Multiplexes. Then it fell into disrepair and William and Nancy Zeckendorf resurrected it and helped make it a cultural center of town with across the board events including, the simulcasts, concerts, old movies, theater, lectures and dance.
The simulcast we saw a week ago was the Met’s production of Franz Lehár’s, “Merry Widow” translated into English. We so enjoyed it that as soon as we got home looked up what the New York Times had written about it. They totally agreed on the wonderful voices of Renée Flemming who played the title role for the first time and Nathan Gunn as her amour, Danilo. The direction and choreography was by Susan Stroman who is famous for her Broadway productions but the Met was a first for her. What wonderful music and great performances!
As a light operetta, it had been chosen for the Met’s New Year’s Eve Gala. The New York Times reviewer, however, had a problem with all the intimate dialog which was difficult to understand in the huge Metropolitan Opera House. I chuckled when my wife read this to me because we had no such problem. In the simulcast the camera focuses on the individuals speaking and we had a much better vantage point than those sitting in the Met itself. What was supposed to be intimate was. Obviously, there are advantages to be sitting in the opera house for a live performance but we have been lucky enough to have seen opera live around the world and can well appreciate being right there on stage with the singers. My father who loved opera, and in later years had a Met subscription, lamented the fact that the auditorium was so large, having heard opera in many of the smaller houses in the capitals of Europe.
If you want to buy a ticket in the orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera it will cost hundreds of dollars. If you go to a simulcast with an unbelievable savvy audience in Santa Fe it will cost you $22. One often hears applause in an audience essentially watching a film. You get a lot more than you pay for. It is, however, not so simple to bring this amazing mix of art and technology to an audience. When 2 founding directors of the Lensic, Bill Zeckendorf and Patricia McFate, learned that the Met planned the simulcasts they became very excited about the idea. It took a leap of faith, however, to think that there would be enough of an audience here particularly in tiny Santa Fe with a population of only 100,000 in Santa Fe County at the time. They decided, however, to put up and raise the $80,000 to acquire a high definition digital projector and install an HD audio interface so that the satellite transmitting from New York could communicate with the Lensic system. The projection booth had to be refitted to accommodate this new equipment The sound system which had left something to be desired before had to be greatly improved since there is nothing worse that an opera with poor sound particularly on the high notes. Their faith proved well worth it. The subscription series for the actual simulcasts have been regularly sold out with the encore performances that run the same evening are well filled, if not quite to capacity.
The next day we were back at the Lensic to hear the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra composed entirely of local artists. A short piece by Mozart, the Ballet from Idomeneo, was followed by the Concerto for Two Cellos by Vivaldi. For this there are only strings on stage with two excellent cellists Joel Becktell and Dana Winogrand. The latter received her BA and MA degrees from Julliard and has performed at Carnegie Hall. She moved to Santa Fe in 1999. Mr. Becktell received his degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music and was awarded the Rubenstein prize for Cello. In other words these are not amateurs but very accomplished musicians as the entire orchestra seem to be.
The last piece was Mahler’s Symphony #1 where there must have been close to 100 musicians on stage. What an incredible performance! It was so well done that the small woman playing the triangle in the back could be clearly heard and I believe that there were 7 or 8 French Horns alone. The guest conductor Guillermo Figueroa was amazing. What he pulled out of those musicians was inspiring and you could tell that they were inspired as well. At the end of the performance, with never-ending applause, Figueroa had each section of the orchestra stand up to receive their due from the enraptured audience.
I have heard comments from people living elsewhere like, “We don’t get as much culture in our town in a year as you can get here in a week”. We are extremely lucky that Santa Feans have such love of music. We enthusiastically support what is brought to us from cultural capitals but we also have a wonderful symphony, which compares well with orchestras from larger cities and, of course, we have the world class Santa Fe Opera during the summer that draws people from all over the world.