Santa Fe Opera’s Spring Tour Opens With Shakespearian UnShakeable

Performance Santa Fe’s General Director Joseph Illick greets the public arriving for the April 9 premier performance of the opera UnShakeable at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Santa Fe. Photo by Roger Snodgrass/


Public appreciation for Shakespeare, like its passion for Opera varies among individuals from all-consuming to de minibus, a range that leaves a few universes to play around in and lots of places for getting thoroughly lost.

An off the top of the head list of Shakespearian operas might have to start with Verdi’s Falstaff, Othello, and Macbeth, but would also include Otto Nicolai’s Wives of Windsor, Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet, Samuel Barber’s Anthony and Cleopatra, Thomas Ades Tempest and other versions and a Coriolanus. Send in your favorite if we missed it.

For some people Shakespeare is the currency of thought itself. And because the Bard is probably not just the greatest English writer, but the greatest writer of them all, all cultural prejudices and linguistic chauvinism notwithstanding, we are still finding ways to do him again and again — cite him, write him, quote him, note him, say him, weigh him, act him or adapt him.

We are fast approaching April 23, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the 451st anniversary of his birth. Only a genius could have arranged to die on the same date he was born, even if the birthdate is an approximation. All over the world cultural institutions, given an absolute mandate by celebrity history will conspire to overdo it.

For its 22nd annual Spring Tour the Santa Fe Opera, has contributed UnShakeable, an original opera composed of fragments from Shakespeare’s plays, written by Andrea Fellows Walters, who is the opera’s director of Education and Community Engagement. She also wrote Shoes for the Santo Nino based on a children’s story by Peggy Pond Church.

Joseph Illick composed the music. He is Performance Santa Fe’s general director and the Fort Worth Opera Music Director, where he will conduct Rossini’s Barber of Seville, beginning at the end of the month. 

The story seems a little complicated, but with a couple of clues to start with, it’s not that hard to follow. You could say it’s all about how I know you, but why don’t you know me? It develops one of the most popular memes so far in the 21st century, about the dystopian consequences of a viral plague that erases the memory of some of the people it infects.

Set a quarter century in the future in an abandoned theater in New Mexico, two former lovers, who were Shakespearian actors together, have been separated, but have finally found each other. Unfortunately, Meridian played by second-year apprentice soprano Jacquelyn Stucker has lost her memory, but happily in the role of Wyatt, baritone Samuel Schultz realizes his allusions to Shakespeare and the roles and scenes they have played together help her find a path back to her lover, but only after weathering many doubts and diversions along the way.

The language makes the opera, a rain of Shakespearian words and phrases, many that ring a bell and some that are so old they are new again.

There is a lyrical chorus that the audience chimes in on to provide a decisive key to unlock Meridian’s amnesia. The setting, filled with clutter and clues, becomes a tool for remembering and shared memories the environment in which love is nurtured.

The ditty you will leave the theater humming comes from a letter from Hamlet to Ophelia, intercepted by the busybody uncle Polonius and read to Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, and her new husband King Claudius. If it means Hamlet is in love, it may also explain why he is acting so crazy. As usual for the “to-be-or-not-to be” Hamlet, the meaning is evocative and anything but straightforward.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”

Touring schedule for UnShakeable and full credits are here showing nine venues in New Mexico and Colorado, between now and April 30.