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SF Opera to stage work with the Met

Next winter, Santa Fe can be seen in New York. Or at least one of its operas will.

Last summer’s “La Donna del Lago,” starring world-renowned lyric coloratura mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, will open at the Met during its 2014-15 winter season, marking the first time in its 58-year history that the Santa Fe Opera has co-produced a show with the Metropolitan Opera.

“I have a good relationship with (SFO general director) Charles MacKay , who I admire,” Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb said in a telephone interview between rehearsals. “He and I often compare notes of what we’re producing and what they’re producing. I think it was I who approached him. I asked him if we could join productions.”

MacKay was astonished by the offer.

“If you’d asked me a year before, I would have said, ‘Not a chance,’ ” he said. “But all the planets aligned. It was the right production with the right opera with the right singer.”

DiDonato is a former Santa Fe Opera apprentice.

“She can sing this part better than anybody can living, or maybe anybody in history,” MacKay said.

The co-production of the Rossini classic means both organizations contribute financially to the opera. The breakdown averages to about a 40-60 split, MacKay said. For the past five years or so, co-productions have been largely driven by the recession.

“Companies can get a very high-quality, brand new production at 40 cents on the dollar,” MacKay explained.

The Met also has hired Santa Fe’s “La Donna del Lago” stage director Paul Curran, as well as set and costume designer Kevin Knight to incorporate additional sets into the Metropolitan Opera House.

“Santa Fe doesn’t have side walls,” Gelb explained. “It has the beautiful sunsets and sky as the fourth wall. We have to make scenery to close up the set.”

With 3,800 seats, the Met is the largest opera house in the United States; Santa Fe’s outdoor theater seats 2,128.

Italian rising star Michele Mariotti will conduct. Mariotti made his Metropolitan debut in “Rigoletto” last season, Gelb said.

Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flores will co-star with DiDonato as Uberto (actually King James V in disguise) in New York, he added.

“He’s one of the rising young tenors in this kind of repertoire —— bel canto,” Gelb said. Bel canto is an Italian operatic term for “beautiful singing.”

The costumes will be similar to the Scottish Highlands garb worn in Santa Fe for this Arthurian legend, but there will be more of them because of the larger cast.

“It will feel like the same production,” Gelb said.

Santa Fe’s past co-productions have included companies in London, Italy and Canada, as well as the Minnesota Opera and Opera Philadelphia. The ability to add the Met to that list amounts to more than a boost to Santa Fe’s prestige, MacKay said.

“When I say ‘and the Metropolitan Opera,’ that really gets people’s attention,” he noted.

Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, in the opera house auditorium. (Courtesy Of The Santa Fe Opera)

Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, in the opera house auditorium. (Courtesy Of The Santa Fe Opera)

Gelb regularly attends Santa Fe’s productions during breaks from the Met; he saw “La Donna del Lago” here last summer.

“I think Santa Fe is the best summer opera company in the U.S.,” he said. “It has a great reputation. It attracts great international singers. It also attracts singers on the way up. It’s one of the top opera companies in this country and it is very highly regarded.”

MacKay said he has already teased Gelb about duplicating Santa Fe’s famous stage view.

“I did say, of course, we’re still waiting to see what you’re going to do to replace the opera backdrop with the Jemez Mountains and the incredible sunsets.”

Rossini was the first composer to alchemize Sir Walter Scott’s 1850 poetry into operatic gold. In this retelling of “The Lady of the Lake,” DiDonato stars as Elena, the singular female voice trying to bring peace to a war-ravaged country of male dominance. As with all of the composer’s heroines, she is both strong and fragile as battles rage between the Highlanders determined to keep their independence and the King James partisans resolved to unite the clans to ensure Scotland’s power to resist the English.

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