Santa Fe Opera to Present World Premiere of ‘The Righteous’

By Francisco Salazar

On July 13, 2024, the Santa Fe Opera will present its 19th world premiere with “The Righteous,” by composer Gregory Spears and librettist Tracy K. Smith.

The new work explores the intersection between genuine faith and political power in the 1980s American Southwest. Along the way, the characters’ sacred love for God becomes entwined with the complicated realities of their romantic lives.

The work is conducted by Jordan de Souza and will star Michael Mayes, Greer Grimsley, Jennifer Johnson Cano, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Elena Villalón, Wendy Bryn Harmer, and Brenton Ryan.

In a statement Spears said, “The Righteous, with an original libretto by my frequent collaborator Tracy K. Smith, is an evening-length work that spans 12 years of American history (1979-1990) and will be performed by a large cast of principal singers, chorus and orchestra. The opera tells the story of David, a preacher and leader of a growing church who finds himself caught up in the confluence of religion and politics in the 1980s, alongside contemporary events including the rise of feminism, the war on drugs, conflict in the Middle East and the AIDS epidemic. Throughout the narrative, we see how the feeling of being called to serve God can be so easily influenced by human frailty and desire. David’s second wife Sheila’s own attempt to seek out God and truth becomes central to the story as the evening progresses. While large in scope, the opera also focuses on the most intimate form in opera: the aria. Many of the characters in the story are on a spiritual search, and it’s with the aria that we hope to dramatize their attempts to reach into the void and connect with something greater.”

Smith added, “As an artist, I’m interested in the ways that history talks to us. Often, history makes its voice felt when the circumstances of the present fall eerily into step with the upheavals of an earlier time’s conflicts. This fact used to unsettle me, as if we in our time were being hauled back to moments memorable for their struggle and strife; now I understand that the uncertainty of our own time makes it easier and more critical for us to hear anew the wisdom and the warnings of the past. As such, I find myself looking toward history often. It is not a backward gaze, for if history indeed came first, shouldn’t it now be up ahead in the distance, turning behind to see if we are doing what it takes to keep up?”