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World premier opera debut at Santa Fe Opera season 2024 – The Righteous

The Santa Fe Opera presents its 19th World Premiere opening on July 13: The Righteous from collaborators composer Gregory Spears and librettist Tracy K. Smith.

The piece explores the intersection between genuine faith and political power in the 1980s American Southwest. Along the way, the characters’ sacred love for God becomes entwined with the complicated realities of their romantic lives.

This new production marks the second operatic collaboration between Spears and Smith, whose Castor and Patience received its world premiere at Cincinnati Opera in July 2022 and was nominated for Best World Premiere at the International Opera Awards.

The Righteous features an all-star cast including Michael Mayes, Elena Villalón, Jennifer Johnson Cano, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Greer Grimsley, Brenton Ryan, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Nicholas Newton & more. Kevin Newbury directs the world premiere production, which runs for six performances from July 13 through August 13, 2024.

Above image: scenic design for The Righteous by Komponist Gregory Spears and Librettist Tracy K. Smith, image by Benedetto Cristofani.

From the press release:

On July 13 the Santa Fe Opera will present its 19th world premiere, The Righteous, by two of America’s most exciting talents, composer Gregory Spears (Fellow TravelersO ColumbiaPaul’s Case and A New Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei) and librettist Tracy K. Smith (To Free the CaptivesLife on MarsOrdinary Life: A Memoir and Such Color: New and Selected Poems) who is a former US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner. The piece explores the intersection between genuine faith and political power in the 1980s American Southwest. Along the way, the characters’ sacred love for God becomes entwined with the complicated realities of their romantic lives. It marks the second operatic collaboration between Spears and Smith, whose Castor and Patience received its world premiere at Cincinnati Opera in July 2022 and was nominated for Best World Premiere at the International Opera Awards.

The Righteous, with an original libretto by my frequent collaborator Tracy K. Smith, is an evening-length work that spans 12 years of American history (1979-1990) and will be performed by a large cast of principal singers, chorus and orchestra. The opera tells the story of David, a preacher and leader of a growing church who finds himself caught up in the confluence of religion and politics in the 1980s, alongside contemporary events including the rise of feminism, the war on drugs, conflict in the Middle East and the AIDS epidemic. Throughout the narrative, we see how the feeling of being called to serve God can be so easily influenced by human frailty and desire. David’s second wife Sheila’s own attempt to seek out God and truth becomes central to the story as the evening progresses. While large in scope, the opera also focuses on the most intimate form in opera: the aria. Many of the characters in the story are on a spiritual search, and it’s with the aria that we hope to dramatize their attempts to reach into the void and connect with something greater.”

Statement from composer Gregory Spears.

For more information on Gregory Spears, visit gregoryspears.com and schott-music.com

“As an artist, I’m interested in the ways that history talks to us. Often, history makes its voice felt when the circumstances of the present fall eerily into step with the upheavals of an earlier time’s conflicts. This fact used to unsettle me, as if we in our time were being hauled back to moments memorable for their struggle and strife; now I understand that the uncertainty of our own time makes it easier and more critical for us to hear anew the wisdom and the warnings of the past. As such, I find myself looking toward history often. It is not a backward gaze, for if history indeed came first, shouldn’t it now be up ahead in the distance, turning behind to see if we are doing what it takes to keep up?

Statement from librettist Tracy K. Smith.

For more information on Tracy K. Smith, visit tracyksmithpoet.com.

The terms of civic debate that emerged during the eleven-year span in which The Righteous is set have much to say to the conflict between factions in our own patch of the 21st century. Is it possible to muster care for far-flung neighbors when so much divisive rhetoric warns us, instead, to harbor fear, mistrust and righteous condemnation? Whom is it safe to love? Is love any longer a feasible investment, or should we instead be shoring up more concrete resources against future scarcity?”

Kevin Newbury directs the world premiere production, which runs for six performances from July 13 through August 13. Newbury shares a close working relationship with Spears, having directed five world premiere productions of his operatic works. At the Santa Fe Opera, Newbury directed the world premiere productions of Lewis Spratlan’s Life is a Dream (2010), Theodore Morrison’s Oscar(2013) and Mason Bates’s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (2017). Scenic design is by Mimi Lien, named a MacArthur Fellow in 2015, the first set designer to receive the award. In 2017, she received a Tony Award for the set design of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. Costumes are by Devario D. Simmons who has worked on and off Broadway and on several television shows, including Netflix’s Rustin and AMC’s Turn: Washington Spies. Lighting is by Japhy Weideman, a five-time Tony nominee who has also worked on numerous Broadway productions, including Dear Evan Hanson, The VisitCharlie and the Chocolate Factory, Macbeth and Of Mice and Men. Video designer Greg Emetaz returns to Santa Fe on the heels of Tristan und Isolde and the world premiere of M. Butterfly in 2022. Susanne Sheston is the chorus master, a position she has held at the Santa Fe Opera since 2008 during which she has led the chorus in nine world premieres. Whitney McAnally is the stage manager and Sordelet, Inc. oversees fight and intimacy direction.

Conductor Jordan de Souza, in his company debut, leads the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra and a dynamic cast. In 2020, de Souza finished a four-year term at the Komische Oper Berlin as first kapellmeister where he collaborated on multiple acclaimed productions with director Barrie Kosky. A native of Cut and Shoot, Texas, baritone and former Apprentice singer Michael Mayes sings the lead role of David. American bass-baritone Greer Grimsley sings the role of Paul, President of Custom Oil who mentors David and whom David succeeds as governor. American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano sings the role of Michele, David’s first wife and daughter of Paul. American countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo takes on the role of Jonathan, Michele’s brother, son of Paul and David’s best friend, who struggles with coming out in the early years of the AIDS crisis. Cuban-American sopranoElena Villalón sings the role of Sheila, a member of David’s congregation who later becomes his second wife. American Soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer makes her company debut in the role of Marilyn, Paul’s wife, and American tenor Brenton Ryan returns to the SFO stage in the role of CM, Paul’s friend. 

Several Santa Fe Opera Apprentice singers will make their company debuts: Jazmine Saunders as Shannon, Natasha Isabella Gesto as Deirdre, Isobel Anthony as Woman 1/Jenny, Ashlyn Brown as Woman 2/Event Planner, Cole Bellamy as Deacon 1 and Matthew Goodheart as Deacon 3/Young Aide. Tessa Fackelmann returns to the stage playing Woman 3/Woman/Ruth along with Luke Harnish playing Deacon 2/Joe/Representative and Andrew Turner playing Eli.  

The Righteous by composer Gregory Spears and librettist Tracy K. Smith
Santa Fe Opera

301 Opera Drive
Santa Fe, NM 87506-2823

Box Office
800-280-4654
505-986-5900

boxoffice@santafeopera.org

Purchase tickets here.

Six performances are scheduled: July 13, 17, 26, 30; August 7 and 13, 2024.

The Righteous
Music by Gregory Spears
Libretto by Tracy K. Smith
A World Premiere Commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera

Sung in English with opera titles in English and Spanish
Approximate run time: 3 hours including a 25-minute intermission

The 2024 Season is Dedicated to the memory of Richard Gaddes, former General Director of the Santa Fe Opera.

Production support generously provided by
Wyncote Foundation, as recommended by Frederick R. Haas & Raphael Gomez
Brautigam-Kaplan-Ostergaard Foundation 
Robert L. Turner

Additional artistic support provided by
David B. & Anna-Karin J. Dillard
Carol Franc Buck Foundation
The Edgar Foster Daniels Foundation
The Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation
The General Director’s Premiere Fund in Honor of Richard Gaddes
The Fund for New or Rarely Performed Operas by Dr. Patricia A. McFate in memory of Ambassador Sidney N. Graybeal
National Endowment for the Arts

The performances of Anthony Roth Costanzo are supported by 
Gene & Jean Stark
The performances of Jennifer Johnson Cano are supported by
The MacKay Fund for Debut Artists

Creative Team:
Conductor Jordan de Souza*
Director Kevin Newbury
Scenic Design Mimi Lien*
Costume Design Devario D. Simmons*
Lighting Design Japhy Weideman
Video Design Greg Emetaz
Chorus Master Susanne Sheston
Fight & Intimacy Directors Sordelet, Inc.
Stage Manager Whitney McAnally

Cast:
David Michael Mayes*+
Sheila Elena Villalón
Michele Jennifer Johnson Cano*
Jonathan Anthony Roth Costanzo
Paul Greer Grimsley
CM Brenton Ryan
Marilyn Wendy Bryn Harmer*
Jacob Nicholas Newton+
Eli Andrew Turner=
Shannon Jazmine Saunders*=
Deirdre Natasha Isabella Gesto*=
Woman 1/Jenny Isobel Anthony*=
Woman 2/Event Planner Ashlyn Brown*=
Woman 3/Woman/Ruth Tessa Fackelmann=
Deacon 1 Cole Bellamy*=
Deacon 2/Joe/Representative Luke Harnish=
Deacon 3/Young Aide Matthew Goodheart*=

The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra & Chorus

*Santa Fe Opera debut, +Former Santa Fe Opera Apprentice, =Current Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Singer

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.

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