Santa Fe Opera taps creator of operatic ‘Handmaid’s Tale’

Santa Fe Opera taps creator of operatic ‘Handmaid’s Tale’

SANTA FE - The Associated Press
Santa Fe Opera taps creator of operatic ‘Handmaid’s Tale’

A fairy-tale thriller from a Danish composer who created an operatic version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” will make its debut at the Santa Fe Opera in the summer of 2019, as the open-air desert venue shifts course under new management.

Leaders of the Santa Fe Opera on May 9 announced the new work from composer Poul Ruders titled “The Thirteenth Child.” It is described as a down-to-the-wire thriller inspired by a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

Ruders previously set “The Handmaid’s Tale” to music more than a decade before the dystopian novel about life under theocratic dictatorship became a hit online television series.

Opera General Director Charles MacKay said the opera, underwritten in part by a Danish symphony orchestra, holds appeal for youthful audiences without being strictly children’s fare.

“This is one of the elements that drew us to this production, the fact that it is based on a not-terribly-well-known Grimm fairy tale,” he said.

The open-air summer opera stage in the foothills of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains is the backdrop this year for “Doctor Atomic.” The opera revolves around the dawn of the atomic age in 1940s New Mexico.

Emily Johnson, the choreographer on “Doctor Atomic,” acknowledged the enduring tensions surrounding the development of the world’s first nuclear weapons at Los Alamos. Her creative team informed their work by listening to stories from the nuclear laboratory scientists, Native American tribes and communities in southern New Mexico that trace health issues to nuclear fallout from the first test explosion, she said.

“We have this story to tell of the twenty-four hours leading up the first atomic bomb test,” she said. We also “have the responsibility and honor to share more than that story, to first listen and learn and then share more.”

Last year, the Santa Fe Opera staged the world premiere of a techno-infused opera about the life of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. An audio recording compiled from the performances is set for commercial release in mid-June through major media download and streaming services.

MacKay is handing over the opera’s top job at the end of the summer to Robert Meya, who will guide the company in cooperation with its first artistic director, Alexander Neef, also the general director at the Canadian Opera Company.

Immediately adjacent to the opera property, Tesuque Pueblo is building a casino on Native American tribal property, fueling concerns of changes to the opera’s views and quiet setting. Surveyors and cranes were at work on May 9, as the steel outline of the building takes shape.

MacKay said he could not say specifically how the casino might affect the opera.

“We’ve been very encouraged by our conversations thus far,” he said. “And we, as I said, look forward to learning more about the project as it evolves and takes shape.”

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