Igor Stravinsky was invited to perform at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi during his early tenure with the Santa Fe Opera. Stravinsky conducted “Threni,” in 1959, “Symphony of Psalms” in 1960 and “Cantata” in 1962. All three of the cathedral performances were free and open to the public. Pope John XXIII invited Stravinsky to conduct his ethereal piece “Mass” at the Vatican in 1963. The spiritual composition never came to fruition at St. Peter’s Basilica due to the sudden death of the Pope on June 3, 1963. Instead, Stravinsky performed “Mass” at St. Francis Cathedral on August 18, 1963, dedicating the performance to his friend, Pope John XXIII.
Upon conclusion of the performance Stravinsky received the Papal Knighthood of Saint Sylvester. The honor had been conferred upon him by the Pope, shortly before his death. That was Stravinsky’s last performance in Santa Fe. His friendship with the Pope came full circle in the City of Holy Faith.
Legacy at the Santa Fe Opera
The Russian maestro accepted Crosby’s invitation to come to Santa Fe where his opera “The Rake Progress,” became part of the 1957 inaugural season. Stravinsky sat in the audience as the opening night performance was postponed because of rain in the open air theater. But the weather didn’t dampen Stravinsky’s enthusiasm for the young opera company. The composer continued working with Crosby on five other productions and attended all of his operas through 1963. Stravinsky’s support during the opera’s formative years solidified its reputation. Today, SFO has become one of the most respected institutions in the world of opera.