Santa Fe offers fresh produce for opera season

Thomas Hampson will share the role of the fiendish Baron Scarpia with Raymond Aceto in the Santa Fe Opera’s production of “Tosca.” Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

Thomas Hampson will share the role of the fiendish Baron Scarpia with Raymond Aceto in the Santa Fe Opera’s production of “Tosca.”

For the first time in a long time, all five productions at the Santa Fe Opera this summer will be new – as in design, concept and casting. The operas certainly have been around, some for as long as 200 years, but Puccini’s “Tosca,” Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” Strauss’s “Arabella,” Rossini’s “Maometto II” and Symanowski’s “King Roger” will each get a dust-up beginning June 29.

“Tosca,” one of the most famous works from the 19th century, will open the 2012 schedule and play a dozen times. Bizet’s pre-Carmen triumph will run for eight performances. Rossini’s original version of a love affair wrapped in a Turkish turban will see six performances. And Strauss’ romantic comedy and a 20th-century take on the old argument between the sacred and secular will each have five.

“Tosca,” the popular opera of love, sacrifice and political intrigue is undergoing a makeover, Santa Fe-style. Last performed here in 1994, this season’s “Tosca” has imported a raft of new talent making a SFO debut. The list includes director Stephen Barlow, designer Yannis Thavoris, soprano Amanda Echalaz and tenor Andrew Richards singing the doomed lover Cavaradossi. Echalaz is making her American debut in Santa Fe.

The spellbinding baritone Thomas Hampson sang Baron Scarpia here in 1994. Because of previous commitments, Hampson will share the role with Raymond Aceto. Scarpia is one of opera’s most memorable scoundrels, chief of the secret police in Rome. He lusts after Tosca – promises, lies, presses and threatens, which brings up the troubling question of baritones.

As a group, baritones tend toward the darkest of male intentions, at least in opera. Revenge, greed, jealousy, lust – the deadliest of sins are theirs. Scarpia is a cunning predator; his name pops up in office pools for the nickname of a malevolent boss. And he’s the linchpin in the Tosca love triangle.

Leila, an old love, sparks the love triangle in Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers.” She complicates the friendship between two old friends, Zurga and Nadir. When Leila appears in disguise, friends become enemies. Baritone Christopher Magiera sings Zurga and tenor Eric Cutler is Nadir. Their bond will be sorely tested by soprano Nicole Cabell. Watch for “Au Fond du Temple saint,” a stunning male duet and the most familiar music in the opera.

In 1820, Gioachino Rossini wrote “Maometto II” for a baritone lead. Based on a historic 15th-century figure, Sultan Mehmed II, the title role is a Muslim ruler determined to squash the Venetian colony of Negroponte. When the opera starts, Maometto II already has conquered Byzantium, and he’s laying siege to the Venetian city.

Unbeknownst to everyone, there’s a complication inside the palace. Anna, the governor’s daughter, already knows Maometto. That means trouble – in the form of, you guessed it, a love triangle. So it’s only partially based on history.

Rossini composed several versions with different endings. The one you’ll see in Santa Fe holds true to the original. A leading Rossini scholar, Philip Gossett, has brought Rossini’s manuscript to light and shared it with SFO to reimagine this summer’s production – new operatic history in the making.

And the baritone quotient? Luca Pisaroni, the rising Italian baritone who was last seen in Santa Fe as Figaro in 2008, will sing the title role. He’s also a regular in the MET: Live in HD productions.

The baritone that drives Strauss’s comedy is a mysterious foreign stranger, Mandryka (sung by American Mark Delevan). He has two rivals – tenors. Will Mandryka win Arabella (sung by soprano Erin Hall), the lovely daughter of Count and Countess Waldner? The parents are looking for an advantageous match in a glittering Vienna of 1860. In this last of the Strauss-Hofmannsthal operatic partnerships, soprano roles seem to hold court, but the mysterious baritone, no doubt, holds the key.

The baritone role in “King Roger” may reap all the headlines. Mariusz Kwiecien, 39, returns to Santa Fe this summer. The Polish-born singer has commandeered “Don Giovanni” for the 21st century and gave a powerful performance here in 2004. He was Count Almaviva in 2008, another treacherous baritone role.

This summer, Kwiecien will sing King Roger, a cunning leader and like Maometto, based on an historical figure. In the 12th century, Roger was a Norman nobleman who oddly became King of Sicily. He created political stability and inspired a cultural Renaissance in a deeply troubled century.

Kwiecien has championed Syzmanowski’s opera for some time and has performed the lead in Europe and America. It’s a stunning tale of awakening by a political ruler caught between two worlds. Sung in Polish, the performance will have the excellent supertitles available in English at each Santa Fe seat. “King Roger” has been much anticipated at Santa Fe and will be performed without intermission.

This baritone role may just have a twist that will surprise you.

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at