August 2, 2012 at 2:57 PM

Opera for a Song

"The SFO experience, from entrance to exit, is a memorable, life-lasting experience"

By Casey St. Charnez

Media Rare

Casey St. Charnez has been video editor for Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide since 1986 and buyer for Lisa Harris' Video Library since 1981. He likes Lisa, cats, crosswords, and the Metropolitan Opera, probably in that order.

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Sometimes I wonder why locals who’ve never gone to the Santa Fe Opera don’t just get up and go, especially when it’s only a few miles up the road. They must not know how easy a night at the opera can be, and with half the season still to come here in August, well geez, people, the time is now.

Perhaps what daunts attendance is the seemingly deadly combo of ticket price, parking, food and drink, and attire: What’s it all gonna cost?  Oh, and what about the kids? Moreover, newbies (as I, once) often foresee a major problem in having to sit through one whole entire opera.

Yet, the SFO has solutions to all these dilemmas, and often they’re inexpensive and accessible.

Tickets: Sure, you could pay $240 for an orchestra seat at Tosca. But did you know it’s possible to catch that and/or The Pearl Fishers for as little as $32 per seat? Also, on both the day before and the day of a performance, rush tickets are half-price for seniors, students, and military (with ID), and you can even get them over the phone. Further, there are 106 standing room tickets (in addition to the venue’s 2,128 seats), $15 if picked up in person, $19 if phoned in (no Internet sales on SRO). Seems to me that 50% off one of those $32 rush jobbies gets you a chair for only a buck more than SRO. Do factor in the Apprentice Scenes, center-staging singers who really are tomorrow’s stars, with Sunday shows at 8 p.m. August 12 and 19. Here’s the beauty part: Reserved seats are $21/adult and $7/kids age 6-17. Yes, reserved. 

Parking: It’s free. Are you surprised? I always am. The earlier you arrive, the closer the spot. If you can, pull into a space with a nearby tree to the west and you’ll enjoy shaded tailgating. The lots are well patrolled, the cars guided by parking staff. “In” is quick, but “Out” can take a half-hour down the two-lane road to the exit. Accordingly, a parked car is a pleasant place to relax afterwards, to discuss what you’ve seen and heard, and have a cuppa, let’s say, as everybody else scrambles to leave. We saw a lot of seasoned operagoers take their time at both ends, and a designated driver is not a bad idea.

Food & Bev: Tailgate picnicking has become a staple of opera dining. How to save bigtime: Bring your own! Duh. But if, sadly, you are lacking a properly outfitted English wicker picnic hamper, with the china and the crystal and the tartan linens, you can have just as good a time with your Lotaburger and Grüet (Full disclosure: In 1984, a roving Vanity Fair photographer caught an oblivious Lisa and myself in gown and tails, happily supping the latter out of the back of our Bronco II). Also in the parking lot, next to the theater entrance, you could pick up a pre-ordered box dinner from local caterer Bon Appétit ($30 each, 6 rotating choices, 48-hour notice). Inside the gates, there’s a Preview Buffet served in the open-air cantina, with a guest speaker on hand during dessert ($55 per person). At intermission (note: the 90-minute "King Roger" has none), the desperate may haul themselves to the bars for drinks soft and hard and somewhere in between, as well as sandwiches and sweets. And for the love of Pavarotti, don’t go sit back down in your seat and noisily devour nachos you brought in from the car! (A true story. How they got past the diligent ushers, I’ll never know). You should only spill on yourself, ya cheesehead.

Dress Code: None. The night Lisa and I went to see "The Pearl Fishers" (an absolutely radiant production, by the way, robustly sung, with convincing weather effects on stage and over Los Alamos), we saw the gamut, from a presumably Texan family who overstuffed the teenage sons in tuxes, to spandex, T-shirts, and shorts on fully half the audience. Adorn yourself with the realization that, being outside yet inside at the SFO, it can be too warm before 9 p.m., occasionally too breezy after. Layers are everything.

Families: SFO has three more Family Nights coming up: "Tosca" August 21 (the 18th is already sold out); "Pearl Fishers" August 22; and "Arabella" August 23 ($25 adult, $12 kids, minimum one child per order). Early to bed, too, as the August curtain is a considerate 8 p.m. I daresay parents who have never treated their progeny to a truly world-class event that has been happening every summer since 1957 are missing a big fat bet.

The Opera Itself: The #1 maxim about enjoying opera is that you need to know a little something about it before you go or you’ll be lost, even if it’s sung in English. Some prep is helpful. KHFM (95.5) airs the entire season-to-come each spring, following the Met Opera’s last radio broadcast of the year, and can aid in scoping out what seems the most interesting and approachable. Opera doyenne Desirée Mays speaks authoritatively around town, as do other expert aficionados. The SFO presents free prelude lectures twice nightly in Stieren Hall, two hours and one hour before the evening’s offering. The Opera Shop sells libretti. Even cooler, every seat has electronic subtitles in English or Spanish…even for standing room! Did I mention the infrared hearing devices, large-print, and Braille synopses provided free by the box-office in this fully ADA-compliant theater?

Summing Up: The SFO experience, from entrance to exit, is a memorable, life-lasting experience. Though opera floats in a rarefied world somewhere between the troposphere and the sopranosphere, we lesser mortals may yet breathe that same intoxicating mix of music and artistry at a lower altitude and still be able to pay next month’s credit card bill. Try it. You’ll like it. How could you not?

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