Tailgating tradition takes on new form as opera goes virtual

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FILE - In this May 8, 2019, file photo, the Santa Fe Opera awaits its summer season in Santa Fe, N.M. The Santa Fe Opera, Meow Wolf and the non-profit organization that puts on the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta are among the New Mexico businesses that received loans from the federal government as part of massive effort to support the economy amid the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Tech executive Peter Batty has been making the trip to New Mexico's high desert almost every summer since 1996 to get his opera fix at one of the most famous venues in the United States.

Not this year.

Instead of tailgating outside the Santa Fe Opera, he and his wife celebrated their anniversary and the opera's opening night on their balcony in downtown Denver. The hors d’oeuvres were out and the champagne poured as the performance unfolded online.

The famed opera is offering a series of virtual performances after being forced to cancel the season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Saturday night events are meant to celebrate the five originally-scheduled operas that would have been performed this summer, including the world premiere of Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly.

Robert Meya, the opera's general director, says the message is simple: Dress up, pop the cork and join in from home.

He hopes the digital initiative can bring some joy to the community in what has been a very trying time. He said the project also affords everyone around the world a front row seat to some of the talent that would have taken the stage at the open-air venue.

About 20,000 people tuned in via various social media platforms for the first episode on July 3, when acclaimed mezzo-soprano and New Mexico native Susan Graham played host as Joshua Hopkins brought to life Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.

“We are celebrating all that is still possible and still beautiful here at the Santa Fe Opera,” Graham told those watching from their living rooms and patios.