- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2001

SANTA FE, N.M.
When he became the Santa Fe Opera's first new general director in 45 years, Richard Gaddes inherited a summer festival that was known internationally but often ignored in its own back yard.
So Mr. Gaddes — just the second director in the opera's history — began reaching out this season, fighting the perception that the festival is elitist.
Concerned that barely 40 percent of ticket buyers were New Mexicans, he launched a down-home, in-state advertising campaign, featuring a grizzled cowboy, that painted the opera as fun, affordable — and over by midnight.
"We're in the entertainment business," says Mr. Gaddes, 59, a veteran Santa Fe Opera administrator who also established the Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
"Edification is only part of it; it should also be fun."
The British-born Mr. Gaddes took over last fall from Santa Fe Opera founder John Crosby and immediately set about making his mark.
Locals who hadn't been to the opera in the past five years were offered half-price tickets — "The sunsets are on the house" and told to forget tuxedos. Ticket-buyers were invited to picnic in the parking lot, where tailgate parties are a tradition, and attend free pre-performance lectures. They were reminded that each seat in the outdoor theater has its own screen for English translations.
The two-month campaign was "hugely successful," Mr. Gaddes says, with 6,600 tickets sold.
He made other innovations: Spanish as well as English translations for two of the season's five operas; shuttle buses from Albuquerque and Santa Fe; better lighting. The opera cut out intermissions where possible and instituted earlier starting times.
"If you had to be at [work] at 8 o'clock in the morning, would you want to be sitting listening to 'Mitridate' at 12:15 a.m.?" Mr. Gaddes asks.
He also contends it's a myth that an evening at the opera is too expensive. "You can get a seat with an uninterrupted view, sheltered from the wind, with perfect acoustics for $20," Mr. Gaddes says.
In addition to joint productions with European companies, the Santa Fe Opera for the first time worked with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival on a summer vocal series. In November, the opera company will present the operetta "H.M.S. Pinafore" at a downtown theater.
"We want to be part of the fabric of performing arts in Santa Fe not the big guy, the big guns up there on the hill," Mr. Gaddes says.
The opera's board president, Carole Ely, praises Mr. Gaddes' management style and community outreach. On opening weekend in June, she said, "People said, 'Oh, it feels so different. It feels so much warmer and more open' and I think it's because Richard is that kind of person."
Mr. Gaddes, though, says the real test of his management is what's on the stage.
"We got off to a good start," he says in his office at the hilltop opera complex a few miles north of the city.
Critics joined audiences in cheering German soprano Alexandra von der Weth in her American debut, in Donizetti's tragic romance "Lucia di Lammermoor," and British baritone Andrew Shore in his Santa Fe debut, in Verdi's comic opera "Falstaff."
Also on this summer's schedule were the rarely performed "Mitridate," written by the 14-year-old Mozart; Strauss' "The Egyptian Helen," conducted by John Crosby; and the 20th-century "Wozzeck," by Alban Berg.
The season — which ran through Aug. 2 — included debuts by more than two dozen singers, conductors, directors and designers.
Mr. Gaddes grew up playing the piano in Wallsend, a small town in the north of England. He disappointed his father by pursuing music rather than shipbuilding, which was expected of local boys. At London's Trinity College of Music, he started a series of lunchtime concerts to give performing opportunities to young musicians.
He was working as an artists' manager when he met Mr. Crosby, who invited him to Santa Fe in 1969 as the company's artistic administrator. Mr. Gaddes left for St. Louis in 1976 but returned to Santa Fe as a consultant to the apprentice program in 1988. In 1995, he was named the opera'sassociate general director.
"He's very unusual because he's willing to step outside the top-20, meat-and-potatoes American repertoire" of operas, says tenor Donald Kaasch, who sang the title role of the legendary warrior-king in "Mitridate."
The Santa Fe Opera's 2002season will include the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho's "L'amour de loin" ("Love From Afar"), produced in association with the Salzburg Festival andthe Theatre du Chatelet Paris. In 2003, the opera will feature the world premiere of "Madame Mao," commissioned from composer Bright Sheng and librettist Colin Graham.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide