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Budding talent: Santa Fe Opera’s ‘Shoes for the Santo Niño’ showcases young performers

The Santa Fe Opera takes every opportunity to get out into the community and educate about opera.

And with the performance “Shoes for the Santo Niño,” the organization is giving the opportunity for young performers to get on stage.

“That’s our hope with the opera,” says Andrea Fellows Walters, director of education and community programs at the Santa Fe Opera. “There’s a lot of talk in my field and about what we call the ‘Nutcracker’ phenomenon. We want to bring young and new to the art form. There’s an aspirational component to it. The children in the opera are able to grow into new roles with each year.”

“Shoes for the Santo Niño” tells the story of Julianita, the youngest of 11 children, who slips out of her home one evening to take a pair of “practical” shoes she has made, to the Santo Niño. Upon entering the church, the Santo Niño and other saints come to life, whisking Julianita off into an evening of mystery, magic and miracles.

The piece depicts the important role of the Santo Niño de Atocha as part of the traditional cultural fabric of northern New Mexico in both Hispanic and Native American families.

The tale of Julianita and the Santo Niño, passed down from generation to generation, is adapted from the charming children’s story by Peggy Pond Church. The Santo Niño is known as an advocate for healing, primarily of children, and many believe that he wears the shoes left by pilgrims who visit his shrines to walk abroad and heal sick children while they sleep.

The opera was composed by Stephen Paulus, with a libretto by Fellows Walters. Mezzo-soprano Sarah Coit and baritone Jorge Espino, both current apprentices, will sing the principal roles.

The opera, commissioned by the University of New Mexico and co-presented by UNM and the Santa Fe Opera for the New Mexico centennial, premiered in December 2011.

“It’s become part of our canon,” she says. “It’s a wonderful partnership with the NHCC. It’s great to be back to the place where it premiered.”

The opera features 39 young performers.

“There’s an element of magic to the piece,” she says. “It’s really a gentle reminder of the good in the world. It’s wonderful to see children performing it at this high level. We did have auditions, and there are many opportunities for the children. It’s really wonderful watching them make these discoveries about what it means to be a performer.”