Since I am headed to Santa Fe and Taos for a press trip on April 17, my interest was perked by the headline “Frommer’s and OPERA NEWS Announce 10 Top Destinations for Music Lovers.” I figured that Santa Fe would be included on the list of prestigious world destinations.
And so it is. Here’s the list of 10 destinations that every opera music lover should be ticking off their bucket list.
1.) GERMANY: Göttingen International Handel Festival
Home to the world’s oldest Baroque music festival, this tiny, half-timbered university town in Lower Saxony fêtes the glories of George Friedrich Handel’s artistic output for two weeks each summer. A profusion of top-notch chamber concerts, late-night recitals and oratorio performances make use of the village’s fetching historical venues, while opera presentations in the 500-seat Deutsches Theater boast the kind of cozy authenticity that is the stuff of dreams for period-instrument purists.
2.) RUSSIA: St. Petersburg
The Mariinsky Theater Named for its royal benefactress, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Tsar Alexander II, and inaugurated in October 1860 with a performance of Mikhail Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar, the Mariinsky Theater remains a crown jewel in the cultural life of St. Petersburg. The beautifully restored house welcomes Mozart, Verdi and Puccini favorites as well as once-forgotten operas by Russia’s own Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Rimsky-Korsakov. During the summer months, the theater glittering White Nights Festival draws operatic and classical music royalty — along with nearly one million Russians — to St. Petersburg for the motherland’s largest public event, making it a top destination for music lovers.
3.) IRELAND: Wexford is a top destination for music lovers
This southeastern Irish town’s opera festival, which runs through October and November, abounds with a distinctly Gaelic allure. A sense of discovery that’s just as potent as the municipality’s omnipresent aroma of burning peat proves to be this festival’s calling card: emerging young stars take part in little-known operas, presented with remarkable musical and dramatic merits under artistic director David Agler. Away from The Wexford Festival’s presentations, one can find myriad opportunities to revel in Wexford’s charms, from poetry recitations in Thomas Moore Tavern to incomparable suppers at Forde’s Restaurant and — should the muse strike you — the Guinness International Singing & Swinging Pub competition.
4.) THE UNITED STATES: New York City
From the Metropolitan Opera, to Carnegie Hall, to a thrillingly modernized Alice Tully Hall — and let’s not forget about outer-borough venues like the unique Brooklyn Academy of Music — there’s a reason New York remains the cultural capital of the world. The Metropolitan Opera, now operating under the auspices of its innovative general manager Peter Gelb, has become an increasingly accessible institution. Likewise, a revitalized New York Philharmonic, led by native-son Alan Gilbert, can tackle symphonic rep ranging from Bach to Schoenberg. Splendid Manhattan-bound classical and operatic fare need not be experienced within confines of the Upper West Side, though: Le Poisson Rouge, a trendy Bleecker Street nightclub presents some of the best jazz, contemporary-classical and chamber music the city has to offer, allows its patrons to quaff hearty hefeweizens or smoky pinot noirs in an atmosphere so easygoing as to make Brahms and Ellington seem like kissing cousins.
5.) ITALY: Milan Teatro alla Scala
Milan’s operatic history — which dates back to the seventeenth century — is no less dazzling than the world-famous fashion houses that make this city one of the modern world’s top destinations for cutting-edge design. [Teatro alla Scala has been the city’s operatic pride and joy since the eighteenth century: the official opening of the La Scala season is almost always on December 7, the feast day of St. Ambrose, Milan’s patron.] La Scala remains hallowed ground on which divas-in-the-making must prove their mettle, and where the world first heard Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Verdi’s Otello, Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, Rossini’s Turco in Italia and Bellini’s Norma — and scores of other classics. While in Milan, don’t miss viewing DaVinci’s Last Supper — here’s how to get tickets.
6.) FRANCE: Paris
Has any place inspired more operas than Paris, perhaps the most romantic city on earth? Paris’s newest home for opera is the spacious but somewhat chilly Opéra de la Bastille, which boasts an unrestricted view of the stage from each of its 2,700 seats, but the city’s most famous operatic landmark remains the opulent nineteenth-century Palais Garnier, familiar to lovers of Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera. Don’t miss a chance to visit Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, an Art Deco masterpiece that is one of Europe’s prettiest theaters, or the devastatingly elegant Théatre du Châtelet. Also worth a trip is the Salle Favart, its frothy good looks an apt metaphor for the light-hearted attractions of its home company, the Opéra-Comique.
7.) THE UNITED STATES: Chicago
Chicago’s Civic Opera House is one of the most beautiful buildings in a city that prides itself on its architecture. Built in 1929, this ageless amalgam of Renaissance revival and Art Deco has superb acoustics, excellent sightlines and sumptuous public spaces, including a handsomely proportioned lobby designed by Jules Guerin. The theater was home to several Chicago opera companies before its most distinguished tenant, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, arrived in 1954. The Lyric established the City of Big Shoulders as an international opera capital, offering the opera world’s brightest stars in top-notch productions. After the Lyric season ends in late winter, Chicago’s opera lovers hold on until spring, when the adventurous Chicago Opera Theater presents its three-opera season at the slick new Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millenium Park. Perfect for a top destination for music lovers.
8.) SWEDEN The Drottningholm Court Theatre
Built in 1766 for the Swedish queen, Lovisa Ulrika, the Drottningholm Court Theatre—located in the Royal Domain of Drottningholm, only a short bus or boat ride from the capital city of Stockhom—is a thing of exquisite artifice. The theatre was a beehive of musical and theatrical activity during the late eighteenth century, but when Lovisa Ulrika’s son (and political enemy), King Gustaf III was assassinated—an event used as the basis for Verdi’s opera Un Ballo in Maschera,—the theatre fell into disuse; it was a storage facility for much of the nineteenth century. Drottningholm was recalled to life in the 1920s and now presents a brief summer season each year, with the repertory usually drawn from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Spring and summer tours of the theater and the palace grounds are relatively infrequent, in order to spare its eighteenth-century charms from the wear-and-tear of twenty-first-century life. Early booking is advisable.
9.) THE UNITED STATES: Santa Fe
In 1957, New York conductor John Crosby started an opera company in a highly unlikely locale: the breathtaking mountains of northern New Mexico. Crosby’s impossible dream has endured: every July and August since then, Santa Fe Opera has presented an imaginative, exciting mix of familiar classics, rarely-performed treasures and brand-new works, their casts generally populated by the best young singers in America. Opera lovers from all over the world have been thrilled by Santa Fe’s singular natural beauty, an element in the company’s appeal celebrated by its dramatically proportioned adobe theater, which has unequalled views of the high desert landscape — and the heart-stopping beauty of its sunsets. Daytime hours in Santa Fe can be spent sampling the myriad charms of the city itself and of its thriving local community of world-class artists and artisans. See Santa Fe in three days. It’s the perfect 3-day getaway.
10.) ENGLAND: Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Sussex
The thoroughly English character of Glyndebourne Festival Opera reflects the personality of its eccentric founder, John Christie, who developed the ambitious scheme to offer festival-quality opera performances on his East Sussex estate beginning in 1934. Christie’s original theater was eventually replaced by a completely new facility in 1994, but the abiding presence of the Christie home and the continued involvement of Christie’s descendants in festival life have allowed Glyndebourne to retain much of its original atmosphere. The operas of Mozart have been at the core of Glyndebourne’s repertory for all of its existence, but more esoteric fare — including some world premieres — is also among the company specialties.
Perhaps Flagstaff, Arizona would have been on the list if we’d continued to host the Phoenix Opera Company for their magnificent performances of Der Wings Die Nieberlungen. As a member of the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce’s Ambassadors Committee, I coordinated finding ushers for all events. The opera cycle attracted opera fans from all over the globe. Let’s get ’em back, Flagstaff!