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Biography chronicles visionary Santa Fe Opera founder

The Santa Fe Opera. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The Santa Fe Opera. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Craig Smith’s welcome new book “A Vision of Voices” is a revealing biography of John O’Hea Crosby.

Crosby was the founder of the Santa Fe Opera that opened its doors in 1957. Under his guidance, it would quickly become, and remain, an internationally famous summer festival.

“It was the right location, it was the right time, and John Crosby was the right person to fit that operatic part into the Santa Fe equation,” Smith said in an interview. “We already had a folk-art tradition, Pueblo traditions. There was a literary and a visual art tradition, but not that much classical music. There was some, but nothing like an opera festival.”

Author Craig Smith has written a biography of visionary Santa Fe Opera founder John Crosby.

Author Craig Smith has written a biography of visionary Santa Fe Opera founder John Crosby.

The opera house’s presence has expanded Santa Fe as a magnet for cultural tourism.

The book discusses the multitalented Crosby as the visionary, the hands-on planner, and the marketer of the Santa Fe Opera. He conceived the buildings, decided on the plantings, graded the roads, oversaw the administration, Smith writes. And he conducted the opera’s orchestra.

“The opera was his child, spouse and lover, and the people associated with it were all deeply influenced by the sturdy aura of his own personality,” Smith wrote in the book’s preface.

Crosby grew up in a family of privilege and wealth but he possessed a work ethic and abilities that molded a life in the operatic world from the time he was 30, the age at which he established the opera house.

“I always knew he was obsessive but I hadn’t realized how obsessive when it came to the company,” Smith said. “I think he devoted every waking minute to the opera. Even before he was 30, he was discussing the possibility of an opera company out here with people in New York and in Santa Fe.”

A biography of visionary Santa Fe Opera founder John Crosby.

A biography of visionary Santa Fe Opera founder John Crosby.

That obsession affected Crosby’s social and artistic relations.

Crosby had few close friends, people whom he knew and trust, Smith said, adding that “most could get the sharp edge of his tongue. There were a few singers and conductors who only saw his kind side. That was rare.”

Crosby ran the Santa Fe Opera for 45 years. He died in 2002.

Smith said the Santa Fe Opera opened its archives to him in his research for the book.

“I was given complete carte blanche to go through his letters, his files, the photographs. I interviewed close to 100 people who had known him and worked with him and some family members,” Smith said.

Smith, a veteran journalist, has been observing the opera house since 1983. He was interested in Crosby from the perspective of a music critic. Smith was an arts writer and music critic for the Santa Fe New Mexican for 20 years.

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