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Albuquerque Española Valley Los Alamos Santa Fe Taos Guild History

History of the Guilds of The Santa Fe Opera, Inc.

1965 through 1969

In its second year, Guild, Inc. members met six times in Santa Fe. By-laws were updated to rule that the fiscal year would extend from January 1 to December 31. An amendment was included regarding successive absenteeism of board members at meetings; the Board of Directors continued to include four representatives from the Opera Association. Working rehearsals for members were scheduled by Mr. Crosby1 and synopses of operas premiered were proposed to be sent to members before the initial production. An Apprentice Concert in the Opera Theater was announced for August; and Mr. Crosby made arrangements for opera artist entertainment at various Guild functions, and personally met these expenses. 28 members were present at the annual meeting in November. The Treasurer reported a transfer for the year to the Opera Association of $19,327.45. Membership totals announced were Taos 88, Los Alamos 418, Santa Fe 895, and Albuquerque 379 (1,780 in all).

First Theater The first theatre at The Santa Fe Opera

In 1966, seven meetings were held, and attendance slowly increased. Early in the year, each Guild held Membership parties; in addition to Guild membership solicitations, letters were sent out for the Donations Drive for the Association. Building up attendance at opera performances was also a concern of guild members — by June 15, less than half of the seats were sold. Ticket prices were raised for the first time, to meet increased costs, with premium prices for opening night, also a first.2

The minutes reported other new matters, The Usher Corps chairman asked Guild, Inc. to assume financial support. A bank account was established at the First National Bank of Santa Fe. And, a meeting was held in Espanola with the view of establishing a new Guild there to be known as the "Rio Grande Valley Guild." A tally of Guild memberships reported Taos 77 members, Albuquerque 1,006 (including 60 Junior members), Santa Fe 817, and Los Alamos 318. At the annual meeting in November, $17,130 was donated to the Opera.

There was a gala opening night reception for Guild members and members of the opera company, in the theater following the performance of Tosca, at which Ragnar Ulfung made his SFO debut. In a special seating section of the balcony, there were nearly 100 especially invited guests. At other times during the year, Guild members were invited to special treats. Two Apprentice concerts were held in August, and a working rehearsal of Don Giovanni was open to Guild members in early July. Synopses of the season’s operas were sent to Guild members, and Mrs. Scott announced a series of free admission programs given at the library in Santa Fe to introduce the four Youth Operas.

Individual Guilds continued to enhance their programs. Albuquerque organized a Junior Guild, and sent letters of information on Opera for Youth to schools and organizations; their membership campaign was heralded with a newsletter. Santa Fe Guild held the annual "Open House at the Ranch" in June; and offered an adult lecture on Wozzeck. Los Alamos gave 3 youth and 1 adult lecture, and operated a box-office, in addition to numerous fund-raisers, including a June party at which apprentice artists entertained. Taos gave 4 youth opera lectures, and Mrs. Parr presented "The Story of Opera," told by puppets.

1967 saw Guild, Inc. making progress on all fronts. In the 10 years since the opera’s inception, it had grown from 2 chapters to 5, with a combined membership of over 2,000 persons. At the annual meeting, the following was reported:
      Albuquerque: 816+ members, donated $8,500+
      Santa Fe: 920 members, donated $10,423
      Los Alamos: 412 members, donated $3,172
      Taos: 95 members, donated $1,375
      Espanola Valley: 117 members, donated $1,100.
Word was heard of a new Guild being formed in Gallup.
Total donations from Guild units were $27,365, a marked increase over 1966.

On July 27, fire destroyed the Opera Theatre.

1967 Fire
1967 Fire
Guild, Inc. assumed responsibility for a Vronsky-Babin duo-piano concert in Los Alamos, as a benefit, and there were numerous offers of other projects for raising money, events too numerous to list here; they will be remembered in the special section concerning Fund-Raising. There were other new features: in observance of opening night (July 1), an after-opera party was held in the theater gardens, more modest than in previous years, with Guild members as hosts. There was an orchestra, donated light refreshments, and drinks for sale, ($1.00 liquor, $0.25 soft drinks). In accord with planned improvements at the bar and garden entrances to the Opera, Guild, Inc. undertook as a special project, the gravel paving (cost $6,500); in this regard, $3 contributions were solicited from opening night attendees.

Membership At Large and Education
Mrs. Walter Mayer suggested memberships-at-large "for persons living far from a guild, but interested in helping the opera"; Mrs. David Chavez, Jr. was selected as the first chairman. And in what surely presaged the Education program, President Anke Kempter suggested increased educational activities, both adult, and in conjunction with the Youth Opera program. Albuquerque had already begun to mail newsletters; in 1967, Taos and Los Alamos did also; the earliest Santa Fe newsletter in the files is dated 1968. And the Santa Fe Guild, beginning what would eventually become their most successful endeavor, offered for sale notepaper with a line-drawing of the Opera, at $1 per cellophane bag.

The second theatre, 1968
By early 1968, the new Opera Theatre was under construction, and in April and May, Guild members served as guides for tours open to the public. Guild, Inc. held affiliate membership in the Metropolitan Opera Guild of New York, and those good people were inspired to assist with the reconstruction. Eight pairs of doors in the loge facade, through which the audience enters, were carved of pine and crafted by Ernie Knee of Santa Fe; each pair cost $1,000. The Metropolitan Guild inaugurated “Operation Pine Door,” and handily raised $6,000 for the project.

1968 Theater

Ten board meetings were held, monthly except for October and December. By August, Guild membership reached nearly 2,800; the donation to the Opera was $24,614. There were the usual imaginative fund-raisers, and Youth Opera attendance passed the 4,000 mark for the first time. Albuquerque added a $25 angel category to their membership; dues in 1965 had been $2.50, $5, and $10. The Gallup Guild became a reality - Mr. Charles High served as first President, and the membership of 87 included two from Grants; 40 people traveled to the opera for The Elixir of Love, and there was a Youth education program. Stirrings of guild formation were noted from Las Vegas, Mrs. James Arrott, chairman; and Espanola wooed Dulce as an affiliate. Members-at-large added interested persons from the Texas cities Stratford, Amarillo, Lubbock, Gonzales, and Dalhart, and Spearman contemplated establishing a guild. Even Central City, Colorado was in communication.

The 1969 board meetings numbered 11, every month but March; the year’s proceeds transferred to the Association were $25,500. Guild memberships were remarkable: Albuquerque 850, Espanola 171, Four Corners 40, Gallup 100, Las Vegas 100+, Los Alamos 420, Santa Fe 1,041, and Taos 149.6 This was the year of Outreach - the President, Mrs. Kempter, and Mr. Purrington of the Opera, went to Farmington in late April for the opening of the Four Corners Guild. Las Vegas Guild was operating, and turned over $400 to the Opera. Contacts were made in Raton and Las Cruces, Silver City and Roswell. Chama and Dulce had representatives on the Board, as affiliates of the Espanola Guild.

Box offices functioned in Albuquerque, Espanola, Los Alamos, Taos, and Farmington.

For the first time, a European tour was offered to Guild members, planned for 20 days in May 1970, to Milan and London, with additional cities optional. In May, the $25 angel membership category was adopted by all the Guilds. And in December, the Association recommended new membership classifications as follows: Regular $10, Angel $25, and Patron $40. Also in December, the first meeting of the Development Committee was held, which proposed to reach a wider audience through a development center in each community. A final proposal concerned a "newsletter, profiling artists performing with the Santa Fe Opera, musical events of interest, and guild functions in different areas: more or less a calendar, and information about The Santa Fe Opera."

1964–1969, A Summary

To refer to the first six years of Guild, Inc. as sensational would be appropriate. Bylaws, a Board of Directors and Officers, and proper organization were in place. There were regular meetings (as many as 11 a year), the number of guilds increased to 8, with 2 Junior Guilds, plus Members-at-Large, and membership approached 3,000 persons. The annual donation increased from $2,440 at the end of 1964, to $25,500 in 1969, evidence of tireless fundraising on the part of each Guild.
With the Association, they co-sponsored an opening night party for the first few years, and offered theater tours, working rehearsals, and Apprentice concerts. Guild, Inc.’s, and later Santa Fe Guild’s marketing of SFO notepaper forecast the now famous Opera Shop, and individual newsletters in several guilds were forerunners of the one soon to be published by Guild, Inc. Lastly, the very important mission of Education got an early start with Youth Operas, and these were enhanced by lectures to children and adults, puppet shows and activities in the schools of guild cities. During the season, box offices were opened in several towns outside of Santa Fe, and the guilds sponsored an Usher Corps, on duty at each performance.

The success of these early years was due in great part to the sense of community among the members, and the fine relationship with the official personnel at the Opera. Mr. John Crosby attended most of the board meetings, had excellent suggestions for Guild, lnc.’s development, and offered talented singers to grace many functions. Mrs. Walter Mayer, President of the Association, was also faithful, constantly encouraging, and appreciative of the early efforts of the members. The first presidents - Mrs. John Dempsey and Mrs. Charles Kempter - were exemplary; if they had misgivings, they never let on.

The next decade — the 1970s — will be recorded again from the minutes. With the structure in place, the real news can probably be treated in the ensuing sections on Education and Fund-raising. Rest assured, there were no dull moments.

Continue to The 1970s


  1. Mrs. Kempter remembers in the earliest years, dress rehearsals were offered to Guild members. Guild activities were reported. Los Alamos organized a Junior Opera Guild "consisting of high school boys and girls, their purpose being to promote interest in the opera, as well as to assist with regular Guild functions, and possibly even sponsoring their own fund-raising activities." Throughout the summer Los Alamos Guild gave lectures preceding the Youth Opera performances, and in June, a box office was opened for ticket sales. In Taos, Mrs. Robert Parr made a puppet presentation for each of the Youth Operas. The Santa Fe Guild organized an Usher Corps, and furnished uniform costumes for the opera ushers “who are Santa Fe young ladies.” (By July, Los Alamos also sent 28 ushers.) Mrs. Goodrich gave theater tours on the Friday of each week, beginning in July. The opening night party was still post-performance; the Santa Fe Guild was in charge of this party, as well as an Apprentice party, and in June conducted an Open House at the Ranch on a Saturday, from 4:30 to 7:00 PM, with tours of the theater.
  2. $20 for the best seats (usually $6.80), and $4 for the least (usually $2.80).