I overlap my fingers into a cross – and hope.
We are going to see our first opera in a year and a half. A year and a half is how long Covid shut down the world’s theaters, and just about the world’s everything else. Covid protocol still makes leaving the house these days feel like an event, so going all the way to Santa Fe is feeling like an outright biblical pilgrimage.
Each summer Santa Fe attracts the world’s greatest operatic stars to sing at John Crosby’s outdoor theater. Now it brings us, two artistic romantics for two more opera adventures, The Lord of Cries and Eugene Onegin.
Let’s do this!
Strutting through an airport again feels amazing. Something about a destination and the promise to see new things, and things anew. Remember the scorpion atop the Tikal Pyramid, the lava at Kilauea, the chocolate in Brussels… The intersection of the wings and cabin makes a cross and I try to reassure myself, you can do this again.
I always choose a window seat on planes. The perspective of clouds relaxes my mind unlike anything else, open space open thoughts I guess. I put my noise cancelling headphones on and watch the shapes outside the window coalesce with memories into stories infinite.
Clouds transform: Bunny shapes and buffalo shapes float by and it’s elementary school and we’re bobbing for apples in a church basement.
I haven’t felt this free in one and half years, yet being asked to wear a mask again still makes it hard to let go of the pandemic completely. Deep woods full of dark carriages the last year and half was. For serious! The fear of the unknown was the worst, and those unknowns; well, big monsters they turned into.
The power of fear is its invisibility. Art can make fear visible, a totem to confront, and hopefully manage toward a catharsis. Lord of Cries features none other than one of my favorite childhood monsters, the well tread prince of monsters himself – Dracula. Let the healing begin.
Clouds transform: Coffin shapes and tarantula shapes float by and Nosferatu rises plank up for the first time in our college dorm.
At 30,000 feet, the clouds part and America’s vast mid-west stretches in hundreds of miles of scrunched and folded shapes and colors; like mom’s quilt in the laundromat dryer. I can only see one man-made shape below, an enormous cross made of white piled stones. It communicates a warning:
Beware vampires and liberals – christian cowboys roam down here.
On the ground, Santa Fe is a super friendly city to explore with a unique architecture that makes it feel like a ‘place.’
I recommend going to Henry and the Fish for morning coffee and just wandering. High on La Colombe we discover the Loretto Chapel whose staircase was once featured on Unsolved Mysteries. A TV show my family used to gather around for in a cozy living room of pillows and bear knick-knacks waiting to hear Robert Stack’s baritone voice intone: ‘Join me. Perhaps YOU, may be able to solve a mystery…‘
Chaltin meets a dreamy eyed local here.
My two engineering friends, Joe and Chris will be able to tell me if the staircase is the heavenly miracle claimed, or something even more miraculous – good old fashioned Italian craftsmanship.
The railing of the staircase is a serpent and indeed a marvel, and whether from it or the quietude of church, I find myself briefly solemn. I write a prayer on a piece of paper, drop in the box, kneel, and light a candle for mom... On the way out I also buy a jar of holy water for a vampire joke. I want a stake in tonights opera, what’s a little sacred without the profane?
If I really wanted to kill vampires I could have just brought some tap water from New Jersey with me, there’s enough chlorine in that stuff to kill anything. As it is I’m ready to douse the prince of darkness tonight, and anyone else I see wearing their mask under their nose.
Crosses abound on this trip.
The ride to the theatre is full of hills and gorgeous clouds. We pass a National Cemetery with rows of white crosses that mark 68,000 internments. We drive further up into the hills with christian music being played by the Lyft driver. In the parking lot people sit behind their cars with table-cloths and pull wine corks with screws reminding me of loretto’s spiral staircase.
Opera tailgating, that’s a new one.
I really missed this. The musicians warming up in the orchestra before the curtain rises feels like coming home again.
The sun sets and I’m full of caution for who might be rising from the dressing rooms. It is Anthony Roth Costanzo of course who will be playing Dracula tonight. He carries a seductive androgyny so convincing I’m not sure it’s him until I hear the voice. We both recognize his distinctive counter-tenor from hearing him play Ahknaten (the sun god) at the Met. How’s that for irony? The plot builds quickly and soon he mesmerizes the women and drives faithful John Seward mad. He turns his fangs toward Johnathon Harker next because he wants to use his estate as his palace. Harker refuses and the count offers him a choice, ‘we can do this the easy way or the hard way.’
The audience knows there is only one path through these woods of drama.
The hard way.
The orchestra in the first act sounds like a rusted twittering machine reflecting the discord of the characters. There are recitative breaks that bring us the news of the day filling gaps in the plot about why the god Dionysus has returned in the guise of Dracula to take a slow bite into the city. Like my favorite Christopher Lee movies, it is for revenge.
The mid-west sun sets in the distance and I feel like I’ve re-gained something that was lost, the collective spirit of being together with others as a community. It’s great to be in a theater again.
The second act is more conspicuously audience friendly compared to the first, or I’m just more comfortable with the structure. Either way the finale is satisfying and shocking… that bloody head.
To travel, to visit Santa Fe, and to see live opera again has been a real treat after this year of broccoli-steins and zombie-beans. There was a catharsis, if momentary.
We walk into the Albuquerque airport re-born as bright as the mid-west sun. On display we see an early stunt aviator named Lincoln Beachey and the bi-winged plane he flew suspended from the ceiling. I feel a surge of adventurous optimism, walk outside, pull down my mask and eat some M & M’s – It’s a big world with a lot more opera to see.
So what is The Lord of Cries all about? What if Dracula was the god Dionysus all along? He returns to remind mortals that he the son of Semele (Semele, one of my favorite operas) and Jupiter is a God and they should know their place.
Notes on the production:
Composer…………………………………. John Corigliano
Dionysus……………………………………. Anthony Roth Costanzo
Lucy Harker………………………………. Kathryn Henry
Van Helsing………………………………. Matt Boehler
John Seward…………………………….. Jarrett Ott
Jonathon Harker……………………… David Portillo
Conductor…………………………………. Johannes Debus
*Before reaching Santa Fe we partied a few nights in Vegas, and by party I mean a lot of swimming and walking back and forth. We deserved it! As much as I love flying our flight from Portland to Vegas was the most turbulent landing I’ve ever shimmied through. By contrast the flight into Fe was funny because there seemed to be a lot of pilots on the flight and that landing was conspicuously – almost show off – smooth.
I thought Vegas would be a town for vampires and mobsters, but felt more like Disney Land with superhero costumes and little kids running around
–the real sinners must be in Atlantic City.
I’m sure in Vegas there are still corners where debauchery and vice lurk and Dracula can still find a willing artery to charm, but we’re too jet lagged to seek them out. The Lyft that takes us to the airport is a driverless car – it feels like we’re leaving a Disney Land of the future for the Pueblos of the past.
**John Corigliano, the composer, wrote the score to an amazing movie named Altered States where the character regresses like Hyde into a primordial form. This all has me thinking about transformations and my early childhood love of vampires.
I still feel the plastic fangs, my favorite halloween prop as a kid. They were more metaphor than bite, and couldn’t even successfully be used to bob for apples. After this year it’s hard to imagine that cavalier germ-sharing world where people would casually bob for apples, let alone exchange hickeys behind capes.
Where did my fascination with vampires begin, Count Chocula? I remember reading bunnicula. I knew the prince of darkness back then from parody more than anything else. It certainly wasn’t until college did I meet the really cool vampires, the silent Nosferatu, the Anne Rice novels, bauhaus’ burgeoning goth music, Bela Lugosi’s dead, Roky Erikson, Tonight is the night of the Vampire.
Over and over we see our fears of the unknown personified into literary characters, think the clown from it or Frankenstein or the unending zombie apocalypse of the last decade. I know this year, more than most, I turned to books and television to escape and process, to find some catharsis in stories. I miss the optimism of the world I grew up in. For the narrative of buying holy water I played like I was afraid of vampires, but vampires are totally a wish fantasy more than the personification of our fears. To be powerful, glamorous, and immortal! The zombie hordes on the other hand that have been popular for the last decade are a singular representative of our collective fears.
****David O Crosby built an opera theatre in Santa Fe, in 1957. It now has space-age acoustics and attracts the greatest musicians in the world, and now two giggling opera fans.