August 29, 2003

Santa Fe, NM

A big night at the Santa Fe Opera House, which I had only ever seen from the audience, most recently five years ago, Madama Butterfly, with the great founder of the House, John Crosby, conducting. Behind Butterfly as she sang were the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and also to each side—the house is open-sided—and between the orchestra pit and the audience was a shallow reflecting pool the width of the stage. Rather stunning.

Tonight, I was the occupant of the Women Principals Dressing Room with its long bulb-bordered mirrors and dressing tables and red plush fainting couches and Tampax dispenser and shower room (a fleeting fantasy of showering with sopranos). I put on my tux and black tie and met a bunch of University of Minnesota alumni backstage, and we gabbed for a while and sang the Rouser. On stage, the Shoe Band was arranged where Butterfly's house had been and the crowd was hot and I sang my baritone version of Bizet's "Habanera" and we did Guy Noir and "The Lives of The Cowboys," in which Dusty and Lefty wind up at the Ten Thousand Waves spa near Santa Fe, where, in fact, some of our troupe had spent the afternoon.

The Opera House season runs for eight weeks in the summer, six operas in rotation, and after our show the crew will batten down the seats and the equipment for the winter and the snow will blow through the hall as the scene crew works to build sets for next summer's production. It was a wild vision that John Crosby had, to build a major opera company on a windswept hilltop in the desert, but he made one that every opera-lover must make at least one pilgrimage to in his lifetime.

It was a full house tonight and a rambunctious crowd, like last night's crowd at Snowbird in the hills above Salt Lake City. People who had driven and flown in from all over and who whooped and yelled as if we were Willie Nelson or Christine Aguilera. They gave Pat a huge hand for his "Road To Kingdom Come" and Peter for "Teelin Bay" and Stephanie for her ballad, "Ikee," about the town drunk who is down on his luck and has to pawn his Medal of Honor. Tim Russell rejoined the troupe tonight and did some great Schwarzenegger and Bush impressions during the Guy Noir.

Ten Thousand Waves is a beautiful compound on a hill outside Santa Fe, with a pleasant Japanese ambience, and Fred and Sue Scott and Pat and Gary Raynor and Peter and Stephanie and I spent a few hours there, getting massaged, and the braver ones ventured into the co-educational hot pool (swimming suits optional). My massage was with a gentleman named Reno, in a hut open on the sides, and he turned out to be a musician who had played with a California band called Juke Savages back in the Sixties and who remembered playing at the Triangle Bar in Minneapolis, an old hangout from my student days at the U of M. He was a fine masseur and also good to talk with. So I went back to the hotel and wrote the spa into the Dusty and Lefty script and that went over well with the crowd.

Met some old friends for lunch, who told me about a radio host named Amy Goodman (with Pacifica in New York) whom they adore and whom I've never heard and how they love New Mexico public radio, which, they say, is edgier and more opinionated than public radio elsewhere. Their feeling is that public radio is always going to be accused of a liberal bias, the harder it tries to be fair, and so we may as well throw caution to the winds and be a medium of opinion. They described the drought situation here (bad, about three inches of rainfall this year so far), and then on the way back to the hotel a thunderstorm hit and soaked us and bonked us with some hailstones.

That night, the audience could see lightning in the mountains as they watched the show. Among them was Eldon Miller, a classmate of mine from Anoka High School, who played the accordion back then and was handsome as Ricky Nelson and sang well and won the high school talent contest with "Red Sails In The Sunset." He was so good that my little heart burned with envy, and the envy of Eldon Miller was one of the things that lit my ambition. Had there been no Eldon, I'd have performed in the talent show myself, satisfied the urge, and probably gone on to a career as a geography teacher. Eldon went on to be a big success in business and now he and his wife Anne own a home in Santa Fe. I'm glad for him. He is a genuine good guy.

Posted by ewalter at August 29, 2003 01:25 PM
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