Story inspires opera production

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The Santa Fe Opera and the University of New Mexico School of Fine Arts will produce a children’s opera

By Special to the Monitor

The Santa Fe Opera and University of New Mexico School of Fine Arts have embarked on a joint production of a new children’s opera.  The work will be performed in late 2011 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque and the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe.  
The American composer Stephen Paulus is writing the opera, based on the children’s story, “Shoes for Santo Niño,” by Peggy Pond Church.   Andrea Fellows Walters, the Opera Director of Education and Outreach, is the librettist.
“This partnership is a milestone for the College of Fine Arts,” said Fine Arts Dean James Linnell.  “Involvement with The Santa Fe Opera on a major project will open a rich opportunity for learning and experience by bringing our artistic and producing personnel into a real, collaborative process to create an original work.”
The opera was commissioned by UNM to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the UNM Chorus.  It also honors, in 2012, the Centenary of New Mexico’s statehood.  
It takes its inspiration from an eighth century legend. In the modern retelling, Pond Church tells the story of a young girl, Julianita, who wonders why the shoes on the statue of the Christ Child in her church wear out and have to be replaced.  She uncovers the mystery and learns the importance of miracles.
The partnership is the first between the two institutions, which will share all production costs.  The 35-minute work calls for two adult soloists, three children and a children’s chorus.  Acushla Bastible is the director.  The project is part of a new initiative by The Santa Fe Opera to present important musical works that families can enjoy together.
“The Santa Fe Opera is pleased to join the University of New Mexico in this important project,” General Director Charles MacKay said.  “I have known and worked with Stephen Paulus for more than 20 years.  He is an ideal composer for this story, having written a number of beautiful works for children.  The importance of “Shoes for Santo Niño” is how well it resonates with the history and culture of our state.”
Paulus is one the country’s best-known contemporary composers.  His compositional style has been described as eclectic and varied.
Best known for his operas, the list includes “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Heloise and Abelard,” “The Woman at Otowi Crossing” and “The Woodlanders,” based on Thomas Hardy. Paulus’s credits include more than 350 works for a broad range of ensembles:  orchestra, chorus, chamber groups and solo singers.
The writings of Pond Church reflect her lifelong love of her native New Mexico and its landscape.  
A highly regarded poet, she published eight volumes of poetry in addition to fiction.  She is best known for her book, “The House at Otowi Bridge.”  
Pond Church was the recipient of numerous honors including the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.  She was named a Santa Fe Living Treasure in 1986.
“Shoes for Santo Niño,” written in 1930, was rediscovered 70 years after its publication.  It is now in print with illustrations by Charles M. Carrillo, a well-known New Mexico painter.