- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Officials with the Santa Fe Opera celebrated the completion of tens of millions of dollars in upgrades at the unique opera house Tuesday as they unveiled the lineup for the 2016 season.

Nestled in the foothills surrounding New Mexico’s capital city, the open-air opera has embarked on a multi-year $35 million effort to improve everything from the box office to spaces backstage that haven’t been touched since 1968.

The initial phase of work is done after seven months of construction, and officials say the opera is ready for the start of the season in July.

“We’re still putting together all the bits and pieces and organizing the last few boxes and where things are going but it is all there,” said Paul Horpedahl, who led the effort as head of production and facilities at the opera.

Horpedahl said the next phase will begin as soon as the 2015 season wraps up. That work will include an expanded terrace, more bar service, upgrades to the scene and prop shop and a paint shop.

This season, visitors will find a new eating terrace where they can grab box dinners if they want to tailgate, new bathrooms and a new gift shop. Behind the scenes, there’s now more space in the wings for performers, revamped dressing rooms and a new wardrobe service area with sewing machines, ironing tables and storage for all the productions.

The opera had been keeping a running wish list of infrastructure projects for years. The decision to embark on the renovations and expansion stemmed from a remark General Director Charles MacKay made to Horpedahl while backstage during a 2012 performance. Horpedahl began drawing out plans the next morning and his napkin sketch was presented to the opera’s board.

A series of brainstorming sessions and meetings with architects and consultants ensued.

Officials say the improvements will serve the opera for years to come.

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales said the opera’s contribution to the city has been invaluable, through $200 million in economic impact, hundreds of jobs and programs that have helped to connect children and adults to art.

Gonzales described it as “magic” when the curtains open and the stage is bathed in the colors of the sunset.

“For 400 years, Santa Fe has been known for incredible artwork, for artistic experiences, for being unique, for being one of a kind,” he said. “And the Santa Fe Opera year over year not only meets that standard, but they exceed that standard.”

Unlike many performance venues across the country, the opera is in good shape financially and expects to have a balanced budget this year. MacKay said ticket sales are just slightly behind last year’s levels.

MacKay on Tuesday also unveiled the lineup for the 2016 season, which will mark the opera’s 60th anniversary of putting on shows under New Mexico’s night sky. There will be 37 performances of five different operas next season, including Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West.”

The opera is also planning a reunion of sorts in August 2016 for all former employees, technicians, artists and apprentices to celebrate its 60-year history.

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