Opera is the great artistic unifier, from vocalism and music to drama and architecture. But don’t forget that dance also is part of the equation, and often a large part. Many operas feature dance as part of the action, sometimes as a stop-the-show set piece and sometimes as an integral player in the drama. Besides “Salome” this summer, two other Santa Fe Opera productions incorporate dance to a large degree: Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” and Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” And just a glance at other repertoire brings many more examples to mind.
Richard Strauss’s “Arabella” has a pivotal dance scene—really an entire act—while his “Der Rosenkavalier” is an instrumental and movement paean to the beloved Viennese waltz.
It’s at a ball that jealousy overcomes friendship in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” while Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera,” “Aida,” and “La Traviata” all owe dramatic verity to dance moments. Dance on the edge of disaster might be the subtext for the first act party setting of Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier,” where French aristocrats indulge in terpsichorean froufrou while revolutionaries brood outside.
Other significant operatic dances are found in Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda,” where the sometimes hackneyed “Dance of the Hours” pauses the vocal action, and Celia’s “Adriana Lecouvrer,” with the classic “The Judgment of Paris” ballet at the grand fête.
Puccini’s “La Bohème” features a short but pivotal comic dance in act four, while the title character in “Manon Lescaut” enjoys a dance lesson in her Parisian townhouse before a sycophantic audience. In Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliette,” the star-crossed couple meets—where else?—at a big party and dance at the Capulet mansion.
The entire Paris Opera Ballet takes the stage in Massenet’s “Manon,” while a much less decorous dance, the “Bacchanale,” introduces the final scene of Saint-Saëns’s “Samson et Dalilah.” Then there is Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” with the Venusburg scene showing off fleshly delights, while the tavern scene in Bizet’s “Carmen” is often the setting for sultry flamenco or earthy folk dance. Carlisle Floyd’s contemporary opera “Susannah” opens on a square dance, during which the community prejudice that will haunt the title character is prefigured.
Mozart is not to be forgotten. There is a big ballet scene in “Idomeneo,” a dramatically important fandango in “The Marriage of Figaro,” and of course “Don Giovanni’s” case of three dances in different meters going on all at once.
Operetta is an even more a movement-happy genre than grand opera. Just consider Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Die Fledermaus” and “Gypsy Baron,” Kálmán’s “Countess Maritza,” and Lehár’s “The Merry Widow.” The “Savoy Operas” of Gilbert and Sullivan traditionally have plenty of dance interwoven into the theatrical fabric.
Santa Fe Opera 2015 Season:
July 3-August 29 Gaetano Donizetti, The Daughter of the Regiment (first performance by SFO)
Giuseppe Verdi, Rigoletto (last performed at SFO in 2000)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, La Finta Giardiniera (first performance by SFO)
Richard Strauss, Salome (last performed by SFO in 2006)
Jennifer Higdon, Cold Mountain (libretto by Gene Scheer). Commissioned by The Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia and Minnesota Opera; world premiere
Single tickets: $31-$220; various discounts and Family Night tickets available
For more information on “Salome” and the Santa Fe Opera 2015 season, go to santafeopera.org or call 505.986.5900.