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Children’s Opera Will Debut at Christmas

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The Santa Fe Opera has commissioned a children’s opera to premiere at Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center in December, as well as a trio of new works slated for its 2013-2015 seasons.

The 35-minute children’s opera will be based on the story “Shoes for Santo Niño,” by Peggy Pond Church and scored by American composer Stephen Paulus. The production marks the first collaboration between the University of New Mexico and the opera. It will debut in Albuquerque Dec. 16 and 17 and open in Santa Fe at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Jan. 6, in honor of the 100th anniversary of New Mexico statehood.

The newly commissioned operas are “Oscar,” based on the life of Oscar Wilde (2013); “Cold Mountain,” (2015) based on the Charles Frazier best-selling novel; and the first American production of “Miss Fortune,” (2014) based on a Sicilian folk tale; . The Santa Fe Opera will share production costs for “Oscar” and “Cold Mountain” with the Opera Company of Philadelphia.

The Santa Fe Opera has a long history of premiering new works across its 55-year history, SFO general director Charles McKay said Wednesday.

Written in 1930, “Shoes for Santo Niño” reflects Church’s lifelong love of her native New Mexico. Seventy years later, well-known Santa Fe artist Charles Carrillo rediscovered it, adding his own illustrations to the story. The children’s opera calls for two adult soloists, three children, a chamber orchestra and the UNM Children’s Chorus.

Theodore Morrison, professor emeritus of music at the University of Michigan, penned “Oscar.” The libretto traces the great Irish author’s trajectory from fame to prison. Wilde was accused of sodomy by his lover’s father, the marquess of Queensberry. The affair exploded into a salacious libel trial. American poet Walt Whitman will serve as the narrator. The pair met in New Jersey in 1882, Morrison said. Countertenor David Daniels will sing the title role. Daniels is currently singing the role of Roberto in SFO’s production of Vivaldi’s “Griselda.”

“The subject matter, unfortunately, is all too relevant today,” Daniels said. ” It’s very important that we don’t sensationalize the story, but that we make it as human a story as possible.”

“Cold Mountain” is being written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon in time for the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. “Cold Mountain” is Frazier’s powerful account of one soldier, W.P. Inman, who deserts the Confederate army as the war unravels and makes his way back to his Tennessee home. The novel won the 1997 National Book Award and was made into an Academy Award-nominated movie in 2003.

“I had seen the movie; I had not read the book,” Higdon said. “I’ve since read it three times.”

Higdon grew up in eastern Tennessee, making the dialog, inflections and behavior patterns inherent to the story easily recognizable, she said.

“Inman actually is on a journey of redemption,” said baritone Nathan Gunn, who will sing the role. “I believe that this will become the American ‘Ulysses.’ ”

The British composer Judith Weir often bases her librettos on folk idioms. She has updated “Miss Fortune” into a 21st century morality tale about the ups and downs of life and the inconsistencies of fate. A group of acrobats known as “Fate’s Gang” will add to the performance.

The estimated costs for commissioning and producing are $1.5 million to $1.8 million for each opera, McKay said,. The costs will be shared between the Santa Fe and Philadelphia operas on a 60/40 percent basis, with Santa Fe serving as the lead partner and fiscal agent.

The Santa Fe Opera has commissioned nine operas, three world premieres and 44 American premieres, including works by Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith, Leos Janacek, Kaija Saariaho and Thomas Ades. Founding director John Crosby believed giving the public opportunities to hear new works was part of his artistic mission, McKay said.

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