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SFO sets a kinder start time

SANTA FE — The Santa Fe Opera is listening to its patrons: Many say they want to get home sooner.

So beginning with its 2012 summer festival season, most SFO performances will start earlier, general director Charles MacKay announced at a news conference Tuesday.

Under the plan for the 2012 season, the curtain will rise at 8:30 p.m. from the June 29 opening night through July 28. The earlier time applies to Youth Nights. The remaining performances in the season will start at 8 p.m.

For years most SFO start times were half an hour later. For example, this summer curtain is 9 p.m. for July 1-30 performances, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 1-13 and 8 p.m. the final two weeks of the season.

“We’ve heard a lot from audiences that 9 p.m. is pushing the envelope. People want to get home earlier,” said Paul Horpedahl, the SFO’s production director.

The later start sometimes results in patrons departing the SFO parking lot well after midnight.

Horpedahl said a critical factor in deciding on the earlier starting time was the setting sun. Based on his online research and on observations of sets designers and directors, he concluded that the sun is below the Jemez Mountains before curtain. That, he said, was the key issue.

“The biggest fear is that we don’t want the sun streaming into the back of the theater. That’s not good for any show,” he said.

MacKay said the starting time change coincidentally dovetails with the opening line of George Bizet’s opera “The Pearl Fishers.” A new production, it will be the first time the SFO is producing the opera.

That line? “It’s twilight.”

In staging a total of five new productions next year the opera company is taking “a leap of faith” because of costs that are higher than in doing revivals. “At the same time, I believe a season with new productions stimulates new interest and excitement,” MacKay said.

These are the other announced operas in the 2012 season:

♦ Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” which is one of the world’s most popular operas.

♦ Gioachino Rossini’s “Maometto II,” which is the world premiere of a soon-to-be-published critical edition. The score is being edited from the original 1820 Naples version.

♦ Karol Szymanowski’s “King Roger,” which is the SFO’s first performance of the 1926 opera. MacKay said he put it on his list of operas he wanted to do based on its “amazingly rich and complex score. … It’s thrilling music.”

♦ Richard Strauss’ “Arabella.” In an attempt to save on costs, MacKay said, the SFO is co-producing it with the Canadian Opera Company.

MacKay said SFO officials will be closely monitor gas prices to determine their effect on Santa Fe tourism this summer. “Ticket sales? We’re a bit behind last year (at this time),” he said.