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‘Opera without the rhetoric’ outdoors at Bandelier

SANTA FE, N.M. — With new artistic direction, this year’s Opera on the Rocks at Bandelier National Monument will feature a collection of scenes from various 19th-century operas.

The annual fundraising performance, organized by the Los Alamos Guild of the Santa Fe Opera, is designed to put opera in a more casual format for guests of all ages. According to guild president Karen Henderson, Opera on the Rocks intentionally veers away from the extravagant images often associated with the art form: fancy box seats, famous opera houses and elaborate outfits, for example.

“This is opera without the rhetoric,” said Henderson. “It’s the music in a gorgeous setting with your friends and family.”

Despite selling out at 350 tickets last year, 2017’s Opera on the Rocks had about 225 guests seated at showtime due to rain showers. As of last week, Henderson said just under 200 tickets had been sold. Those staying at the campground are admitted for free.

For the first time, the show will be put on by the Santa Fe-based New Mexico Performing Arts Society. Its artistic director, Franz Vote, has directed and conducted at such well-known venues as New York City’s Metropolitan Opera and Berlin’s Theater des Westens.

A majority of the previous Bandelier performances have been pieces from a single opera or operetta, Henderson noted. Last year, the company sang selections from Mozart’s comic “The Abduction from the Seraglio” in a Star Trek-like adaptation.

Most of the selections this year come from the Performing Arts Society’s repertoire over its past two seasons.

The six-person ensemble will perform scenes from Charles Gounod’s “Faust”; “The Gypsy Baron” by Johann Strauss II; Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann”; “I Pagliacci” composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo; and “Samson and Delilah” by Camille Saint-SaĆ«ns.

Members of the New Mexico Performing Arts Society in June 2017 sing music from Johann Strauss II’s operetta “The Gypsy Baron.” (Courtesy of John Sadd)

The group will also sing five selections, all solos and duets, from “The Gypsy Baron.” Vote described the music of the German comic operetta, which tells the story of a gypsy camp in 18th-century Hungary, as “tongue in cheek,” with the use of gypsy-like sounds, Viennese waltzes and marches.

“It’s guaranteed to please a crowd,” he said of the music.

The comedy/tragedy “I Pagliacci,” which translates from Italian to “The Clowns” and follows a circus troupe, is likely the most performed opera sampled for the program, Vote said. A duet will feature Nedda, the wife of the troupe’s leader, and her lover Silvio. “She is married to a very unstable, violently angry and jealous tenor,” Vote said of Nedda’s character.

“Samson and Delilah” is a cautionary tale of love and betrayal. The society’s scene of choice, Vote said, is an aria sung by Delilah in hopes of seducing Samson. Its title translates to “My Heart Opens Itself to Your Voice.”

“He does overhear it, he is interested and the rest is history,” said Vote.

From “Faust,” an opera based on the German story of the same name about a philosopher who sells his soul to Satan for eternal youth, the audience will see a now-young Faust and his love interest, Marguerite, fall in love. But the scene opens with Satan lurking nearby, happy that she fell for Faust.

For the finale, Vote has chosen a famous “barcarolle,” a traditional song style inspired by the singing of Venetian gondoliers, from the French “Tales of Hoffmann.” He described the title character as similar to Faust, a “dissolute figure who screwed up his life and wants to live it over.” The opera follows Hoffmann telling the stories of past relationships.

In this particular scene, Hoffmann’s sidekick, Nicklausse, is demonstrating to Hoffmann how to seduce someone.

“It’s a very voluptuous, very French, very romantic, very melodious and extremely effective scene,” said Vote.

Drinks and snacks will be available for purchase on site. Ticket proceeds go to the Santa Fe Opera’s Education and Community Programs and the Friends of Bandelier.

In there’s a rainout, the event will be staged on Sept. 29.

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