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

Opera for Youth: A History

In 1973, the president of the Opera Association, Mrs. Walter Mayer, wrote to Guild, Inc.:

  1. Developing the audiences of tomorrow and the Opera’s supporters of years to come are major parts of Guild responsibility.
  2. Developing income for the Opera which cannot be reached through Association fundraising programs is the other important area of Guild activity.
In such fashion did Mrs. Mayer charge us with our two primary purposes: Education and Fundraising; in the following chapters these fields of endeavor will be addressed.

The first Education program embraced Operas for Youth; later a separate Education Committee was established. The Pueblo Opera Program followed, as corollary, and most recently the category of membership for older young people — WOW — has been offered.

In 1959, two years after the founding of the Santa Fe Opera, the program called "Opera for Youth" came into being. One opera was offered - The Barber of Seville. The following year, 1960, two were presented, and, with the exceptions of 1985 and 1986 when only two performances were open to the Youth Opera program, in successive years three or four have comprised the program.

In conjunction with the Association, Guild, Inc. from the beginning helped to administer the program; the expenses for Youth Operas were paid by the Guilds, and all receipts went directly to the Opera. The stated purpose was to "allow young people throughout the State an opportunity to learn about and attend operatic performances."

For 1959, 1960, and 1961 there are no reports extant. There is in the files a very complete report for 1962 written by Eleanor Scott, who was Opera for Youth chairman from 1959 through 1969; from this can be quoted scattered information about the earliest years. The productions were full performances, final dress rehearsals, which ran without interruption. At the door, Mrs. Scott sold tickets and made change out of her many-pocketed apron. Admission charges were $1.00 each child, and $1.00 each chaperone. In 1960, The Gondoliers, and Cinderella were performed, and in 1961, there were four: The Ballad of Baby Doe, La Bohème, The Marriage of Figaro, and Carmen. Mrs. Scott commented that these latter offered the first really adult fare, and the children responded beautifully.

The attendance number was 2,948. The particulars for 1962 were detailed: La Traviata, Cosi fan tutti, Joan of Arc at the Stake, and a double bill — Persephone and Oedipus Rex were offered, an innovative assortment which introduced contemporary composers, and works in two languages other than English: Latin and French; Oedipus Rex was a particular favorite of the boys in the audience. 3,340 children and chaperones attended (each adult being accompanied by five or more young people).

In 1961 and 1962, Kermac Nuclear Fuels donated $2,500 to underwrite this venture (Opera for Youth) in substantial part. In the annals of the program, this is the first mention of that kind of contribution. In 1962, an increased effort was made to reach children from all parts of New Mexico, with the result that groups from Farmington, Raton, and Grants participated for the first time, while attendance from Albuquerque and Taos increased. Attendance from places outside of Santa Fe was gratifying: Espanola, Las Vegas, Los Alamos, Roswell and Artesia, Tesuque, Nambe, Santa Cruz, Cordova, Abiquiu, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Terrero, Holy Ghost Canyon, Watrous, Antonito, plus Youth Hostellers from the Bronx!

From Santa Fe, the children represented church groups, clubs, community centers, orphanages, Girl Scouts, and a few public schools (individual public school music teachers were cooperative in assembling blocks of young people).

Mrs. Scott felt the next phase of the program would be better preparation of the youngsters for the operas they would attend. The first step in this direction may have been taken by Mrs. F. C. Stringfellow, a radio commentator in Raton, who, upon being supplied with a La Traviata recording and libretto, held a party for the 35 children accompanying her to Santa Fe, and briefed them.

For 1963, there is little information. There were four operas offered to the children, and the Los Alamos Guild began a series of Youth Opera lectures, by a number of local music teachers and singers, who presented programs explaining stories and the characters to the youngsters. The only report for 1964 is again from Los Alamos. The price of admission continued at $1.00 each, for children and chaperones. Lectures were given preceding each Youth Opera, for children and adults, introducing the composer, story, and music of the opera; these were free, and open to the public. Los Alamos was the only guild having an education program of this type, and “has proven very worthwhile,” an indication 1964 was not the first time it was offered. For 1965, there is no information, other than the fact that four operas were presented.

From 1966, there is consistently more each year to record. The performances were attended by children from all the nearby towns, as well as from Roswell, Raton, and Farmington.

In Santa Fe, a series of free admission programs was held in the Library to introduce the four Youth Operas; these were talks by music teachers. And in Taos, Mrs. Grace Parr again presented “The Story of the Opera,” with puppets. The Taos Guild undertook to pay insurance and transportation costs to the operas.

By 1967, 3,850 numbered the total attendance; of these, 1,638 (42%) were from Santa Fe, and 2,212 (58%) came from out of town. While these seem to be healthy figures, there is a comment that in this year the switch to Daylight Savings time in New Mexico necessitated a later starting hour (9:00 PM) for the performance, and this definitely depressed out-of-town sales.

Attendance at The Marriage of Figaro in August was down; after the fire at the Opera theatre, performances were held at the Sweeney Gymnasium, sales were down, and Youth Opera was no exception. Mrs. Scott again produced a detailed chronicle of the year’s progress, and it will be freely quoted. The price of admission was changed slightly: still $1 for children 18 or under, but now $2 for chaperones. Los Alamos, Taos, and Santa Fe Guilds conducted pre-performance briefings, and in Los Alamos and Taos, the young people themselves shared the responsibility for producing these programs. As a matter of policy, an attempt had been made each season to offer at least one opera in a foreign language (i.e., in 1967, Carmen, sung in French); the program, in the nine years of its existence, had presented operas in French, Italian, Latin, and Russian. And Mrs. Scott noted, “if audience building for the future is our goal, we must continue to offer at least one contemporary work each season, although we take a loss in attendance when we do so.” Cardillac (Paul Hindemith - American Premiere) sold less well, but was extremely well-received, and the teenage usher corps called it their favorite. There were interesting comments from children from Mora and Truchas, most of whom had never been to Santa Fe, isolated, mountain children who were extremely attentive and responsive; The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro did not impress; Carmen and Cardillac were their preference. (These children saw the performance of the ill-fated Cardillac production which was destroyed by fire the next night).

Mrs. Scott carefully recorded attendance from cities and small towns, some as far away as Wagon Mound, Littlefield, Texas. She further identified the groups attending, both from out of town, and from Santa Fe — and these continued to be groups from churches, camps, Girls and Boys Clubs, Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls, with no mention this time of children from public or private schools.

In 1968, total attendance passed 4,000 for the first time. Mrs. Scott presented an audio-visual program, selected film strips were available, and there were free lectures at the Santa Fe Public Library. Tapes were offered to both public and parochial schools, and blackboard displays were created, ready for use. Obviously, out of the growing Operas for youth, an education program was developing, though not yet recognized as a separate entity.

In this year after the fire, there were tours of the new theater for the public; included in these visitors were two busloads of Navajo children, and one of underprivileged children.

The records for 1969 pertain largely to the activities of individual Guilds, in relation to Operas for Youth. The Albuquerque committee appeared in the public schools, lecturing on the operas to be given, and distributing synopses; they went to 21 schools, and reached 4,500 students. Gallup reported great teacher interest in the Youth program. Las Vegas sent children to performances in July, at the same time their Guild was being organized. Dulce reservation children attended performances; in July, 23 Jicarilla Apache dancers, with 3 drummers and 2 singers entertained at intermission in the opera patio, and in August, 14 dancers appeared at a Youth Opera evening. Mr. Purrington, of the Association, outlined a program to be set up for school children (in 1970) as a general introduction to “The World of Opera.”

Progress continued to be made in 1970. In Albuquerque, Guild members again presented programs on the operas in the schools, and participated in Albuquerque’s “Seven Day Salute” to the Santa Fe Opera; an Opera Safari was held for children at the Zoo. In Las Vegas, the Highlands University music department presented educational programs on Youth Operas. At the May Guild, Inc. board meeting, Youth Opera information and a list of available education materials were handed out. Mrs. Kempter made announcements on Santa Fe radio, and there was discussion of the possibility of a 15 minute preview immediately before each opera. Prices remained at $1 for children under 18, and $2 for adults accompanied by 5 or more students. Santa Fe and satellite towns accounted for most of the attendees, though there were young people from the Taos School of Music and Philmont Scout Ranch, as well. A few problems were noted this season, such as:

  1. too few chaperones for young children; the opera frequently being used as a baby-sitting service - a new difficulty, as in other years the problem had been too many adults taking advantage of the program;
  2. distractions - noisy candy wrappers, talking and whispering;
  3. groups in large blocks caused bad feeling, as best seating seemed reserved for them.

1971 saw a further definition of the price schedule: children 6-18, $1, over 18/College,$2, and adults, $2, with at least five children. For the first time, Youth Opera booklets were distributed to each child attending; these gave background information on the operas, the orchestra, and backstage activities, as well as notes on opera manners. Banks in various Guild cities aided in the funding of these booklets; there was also this year a grant for Youth Opera from the New Mexico Arts Commission.

And another new feature: an opportunity was offered by the Albuquerque Tribune for youthful audiences to write about their impressions of the performances. After a Guild committee selected two or three after each opera, the Tribune would print the work, and acknowledge the author. However, there seems to be no further record of this — no writings by the children, no clippings from the Tribune.

Several methods were being used to prepare children for enhanced enjoyment of Operas for Youth. Educational materials prepared by Education Chairman Anke Kempter (first mention of this office) included slides, tapes, teacher guides, and printed matter to be used by local Guilds in their schools. Numbers of groups continued to attend the performances, from ranches, camps, Scout troops, and also from the northern Indian Pueblos. For the first time, there was a Youth Opera expressly for college students: Yerma; over 1,100 attended. At The Flying Dutchman, Mr. Crosby appeared just before the performance, welcomed the youngsters, and gave them a brief synopsis of the opera

There continued to be some problems with restlessness and noise at these dress rehearsals, especially at Don Carlo, which apparently seemed long and slow moving to the children, with a plot difficult for them to follow. From an “Opera News” story on the Youth program at the Metropolitan Opera, there is an apt quote in this regard:

“A student performance is unique. The atmosphere is electric with a buzz of conversation, debris from candy, sandwiches, and milk, and a great sense of being present at an event. In most cases the work beforehand has given the audience enough collective awareness of what is happening to make it a real participant — more refined than the rabble at Shakespeare’s Globe, and more interested than the average subscription audience in the evening.”

In September of 1970, Mr. Weinrod asked if Guild, Inc. would be interested in taking over the Youth Opera program from the Association. And in 1971, the responsibility for administering Operas for Youth was delegated to the Guilds.

1972, the second year of Guild, Inc.’s operation of the program, saw the undertaking of both the administration, and the education demanded by such a program for young people. The introductory set on opera in general, “Let’s Go to the Opera,” was sent to all Guilds for distribution in public schools in the spring. In addition, the Education chairman prepared tapes, with narrated synopses and musical excerpts for each opera, and slides selected to give visual preparation for the production. At the performance, a booklet was given to each ticket holder, containing information and synopses; this year it was attractively illustrated by Mary Knickerbocker, Santa Fe artist and guild member.

Again, an opera was offered with first priority to college students: Melusine. And under the direction of Mrs. Jane King and her group of volunteers, there was a refreshment booth which sold chocolate milk and orange drink, $0.10 carton ($66.57 was cleared in 20 minutes!). In pursuit of utter neatness, Jane stood by with mop and bucket of water.

In the fifteenth year of Opera for Youth, 1973, the goals remained the same:

  1. to reach as many young people as possible,
  2. to build a broad base of awareness of and appreciation for opera, and, to offer opera to them at a price they can afford

For the third year, tapes, slides, and synopses were made available by Mrs. Kempter, and were distributed through the public schools; it was recommended to expand the education program statewide. For the Youth Operas, the practice of giving a booklet in advance to each ticket buyer was continued, and this year an illustration contest was initiated, for children to make drawings for the booklet, centered on opera. Owen Wingrave was the opera offered to senior students.

Also that year, efforts were made to arrange the attendance of children from Indian Pueblos from up and down the Rio Grande Valley. This Pueblo Project, initiated by Mrs. Jane King, was certainly the beginning of the program later known as POP — Pueblo Opera Program, and was immediately successful, as indicated by the attendance from Nambé, Pojoaque, Tesuque, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, San Juan, and Cochiti. An announcement was sent to the Northern Pueblos Agency, with a description of the opera stories, and the promise:

  1. to provide tickets for Pueblo children ages 9 through 14, to each see two different performances (one adult chaperone with each 6 children),
  2. that arrangements for transportation would be made through the Bureau of Indian . Affairs/Northern Pueblo Agency,
  3. that a program of music, slides, and a talk about the opera would be presented, in April or May, at the convenience of each pueblo, at a school or community center,
  4. and to offer a backstage tour in June or July.

This communication concluded with a permission slip for parents to sign and return.

From 1974 on, the progress of the Education Committee and POP will be addressed in separate sections of this history. The Opera for Youth program remained well established, and few changes have been made since that time, with the notable exception of greater profit realized (i.e., in 1974, $3,875 was turned over to the Opera, while in 1990, the net profit was $10,448).

In 1974, prices were raised to $1.50 per child, and $3 for adults; refreshments (milk or orange drink) sold for $0.20. The booklet distributed to attendees contained definitions of conductors, chorus, trio, etc., as well as words about voices: soprano, bass, et al. There were again synopses of the operas, illustrated with children’s drawings, and a discussion of proper deportment at the opera. Guild, Inc. President Bodour solicited banks in Guild cities to defray program costs, and there was a $500 grant from the New Mexico Arts Commission.

The three operas in 1975 were all sell-outs, and the proceeds were sent directly to the Opera. The booklet, in addition to previously seen features mentioned the Ron and Mary Kay Day Puppet shows, sponsored by the Education committee, and for the first time, contained over $500 worth of advertisements. This was the third of the “Opera in Santa Fe” illustration contest, and many entries were mounted displayed, Attending the performances were out-of-town groups from Edgewood/Moriarty, and Las Cruces, as well as from Indian pueblos.

The Opera for Youth booklet for 1976 was expanded to include information on all the available education programs. This was the fourth year of the illustration contest, and there was a traveling display of the art of these years, which could be seen at each Youth Opera, at the Opera Ranch open house, at a branch library in Albuquerque, and at the De Vargas Shopping Mall in Santa Fe. It was decided to cease the solicitation of the business community for funds to defray the cost of booklets; advertisements continued to be published. Many groups attended performances: 11 Indian groups, and 17 others, the farthest away being from Rehoboth, near Gallup. At the refreshment booth, soft drinks for first time replaced milk and juice ($0.20). And notably, Taos was the “star” community being the only one to sell out all four Youth Operas.

In late 1976, Youth Opera chairman Strader made a proposal that Youth Opera and Education chairmen each prepare budgets for the coming year, further reinforcing their separation; a particular reason cited was that both programs had grown, and needed more formal financial planning. Two small changes were noted in the 1977 season: the booklet was shortened and printed on lighter stock to combat increasing costs (it no longer contained advertising), and soft drinks were now offered at $0.25.

In 1978, admission prices remained the same ($l.50 children, $3.00 adults), but it was suggested the ratio of children to chaperones be changed from 5 to 1, to 4 to 1. The booklet presented additional information on sections of the orchestra, with sketches of the typical instruments, and mention was made of the available education programs and materials, and backstage tours. For this season, Youth Opera was awarded a $3,500 grant from the New Mexico Arts Division.

In 1979, there was introduced a new format for the Youth Opera booklet: 8 pages, with a Falstaff poster reproduced on the cover (by Roxanne Swentzell of Santa Clara), to be used 4-5 years, with inserts of 4 pages for each year’s operas. Refreshments remained for sale at $0.25, but admission prices were raised to $2.00 children, $4.00 chaperones (with 4 children).

By 1980, 108,000 children and chaperones had attended Youth Opera performances.

For the next decade, there were very few changes in the program. Except for 1985 and 1986, when there were only two performances offered to youth audiences, there were consistently three operas given. Chairmen served two-year terms, there were further design changes in the booklet to reduce the cost of printing, and bookmarks were distributed, at first (1980) by the Santa Fe Guild, to the schools, and subsequently, (1983), by Guild, Inc. to local Youth Opera chairmen; these contained the schedule of Youth Opera performances for that year. Probably the most notable changes embraced ticket prices, enacted at the following intervals:

1981 ages 6-17, $2.50; ages 18-21, $5.00; chaperones, $5.00; (or a package, $15.00 for one adult and four children); tickets for senior students vs. chaperones were color-coded.

1985 ages 6-17, $3.00; ages 18-21, $6.00; chaperones, $6.00; (package price $18.00).

1987 ages 6-17, $3.00; ages 18-21, $8.00; chaperones, $8.00; the latter $8.00 categories became $10.00 if purchased the night of the performance, (package price $20.00).

1989 a special package price of $50.00 for all three Youth Operas, if purchased in advance of the first performance.

Refreshments, to date (1990), remain at $0.25.

There was considerable help in meeting those costs, in 1982 by the National Education Association; in 1983 lay-out services were donated by the National Education Association, and printed at nominal cost by Piñon Press; In 1987, the PNM donation was used to improve the program hand-out, and in 1988 PNM and Burlington Resources, Inc. contributed to printing programs and tickets.

In 1986, there was a 100% increase in sales of Youth Opera tickets. This was the result of a number of factors: the number of sales outlets was increased from 2 to 7, there were advance sales at the Box Office, expenses were decreased (lower printing costs, and the deletion of orange juice from the offerings at the refreshment booth), and there was extensive advertising in newspapers, and on radio and TV spots.

In 1990, the Opera for Youth performances were made possible in part by a general grant from Burlington Resources, Inc., and its subsidiary companies.