Dame Kiri Te Kanawa made her American debut at the Santa Fe Opera in 1971 as the Countess in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” The performance also featured Frederica von Stade in her debut as Cherubino.
“Everyone knew at once that these were brilliant finds,” Crosby said. “History has confirmed that first impression.”
According to “The Santa Fe Opera: An American Pioneer” by Phillip Huscher, Kanawa would repeat the role in her sensational, headline-making debut at Covent Garden in London months later. Santa Fe heard her before New York, San Francisco and Chicago, as well as Europe. After Santa Fe, Von Stade triumphed in the role in Paris under conductor Sir Georg Solti.
She returned to Santa Fe an international star in 1982 in “Mignon” and again in 1989 in Massenet’s “Chérubin.” She would continue to break new ground in Santa Fe by taking on Handel’s “Xerxes” in 1993.
The late bass-baritone Donald Gramm sang 20 roles for Santa Fe. Swedish tenor Ragnar Ulfung appeared with the company for 26 seasons, beginning in 1966. He also sang in Ingmar Bergman’s famous production of Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress.”
Santa Fe resident Susan Graham grew up in Roswell and longed to sing at Santa Fe. But when the mezzo-soprano auditioned for the apprentice program in the mid-1980s, she was too green to pass the preliminary ground. It wasn’t until 1989, after studying at the Manhattan School of Music and winning the Metropolitan Opera auditions, that she was invited to Santa Fe as the understudy to Frederica von Stade in “Chérubin,” as well as a tiny role in “La traviata.”
Since then, Santa Fe has hosted some of her most important nights in an opera house. She tried out three of her signature roles in Santa Fe: Dorabella in “Così fan tutte” and the Composer in Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos,” and, on a now-famous night in 1991, her first Cherubino opposite Terfel’s first Figaro. This season, Graham will sing the role of Clairon in Strauss’ “Capriccio.”
Already a regular at both the San Francisco Opera and the Met, Santa Fe resident Patricia Racette made her Santa Fe debut in 1996 in the world premiere of “Emmeline.” She has since performed frequently, singing a gallery of characters in five languages. Racette stars in this season’s production of Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West.”
Lyric coloratura mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato was a Santa Fe apprentice in 1995 who went on to sing in major opera houses across the globe. She most recently appeared in the Santa Fe/Royal Opera, Covent Garden production of Rossini’s “La donna del lago” in 2013. DiDonato will return to perform at Santa Fe’s summer gala concert on Aug. 6.
Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel made his American debut as Figaro in Santa Fe in 1991, just as his career was about to explode. Terfel wasn’t prepared for Santa Fe at first.
“I was shocked when I first arrived, because I couldn’t imagine an outside opera house,” the then-25-year-old told a local reporter, “but it’s such a wonderful idea, kind of an oasis.”
Acclaimed French soprano Natalie Dessay was so smitten with Santa Fe during her 2003 U.S. recital debut that she returned in 2004 to sing the role of Amina in Bellini’s “La sonnambula.”
The now-celebrated bass James Morris was a Santa Fe apprentice in 1969, the year before he joined the Metropolitan Opera.