Attending Yale as an undergraduate soon followed and, after some consideration of several future professions which included the law, airplane piloting, and music (where he studied composition with Paul Hindemith and created musical arrangements for musical productions), he graduated with a degree in music in 1950.
In 1951, during a period of regular attendance at the Met as a standee, Crosby saw the Alfred Lunt production of Cosi fan tutte, which influenced him greatly in developing a concept for the future Santa Fe Opera.
From this location Crosby and Sachse (who was to be artistic director) carefully selected the specific site of the open-air theatre, which was planned to seat 480 and to be “the only outdoor theatre in America exclusively designed for opera” . In addition, Crosby calculated that about $60,000 was needed to be raised to support the first summer’s operations; in the end, only $50,000 was raised but $40,000 was taken at the box office with about 12,850 people attending.
Several things characterized Crosby’s approach to the presentation of opera in Santa Fe: All operas were to be sung in English to make them as accessible as possible; staging, costuming and lighting were emphasized, as was acting. The thirteen singers who were engaged were mostly young (all between 21 and their early thirties); and the innovation which was most revolutionary in the world of opera in America in the 1950s was the creation of the apprentice system, whereby the company hired a group of young singers to serve as chorus members, understudies for the main roles, and singers in secondary roles. As Crosby noted:
The current Apprentice Program for Singers and Technicians (Technicians were added in 1965) continues at the Santa Fe Opera today. Annually (as with the 2008 season), 1,325 singer applicants competed for 44 positions and, of the 700 technician applications, 70 were chosen as apprentices. Some apprentices are invited to return for a second season.
The first six performances were sold out and, in spite of some rainouts during what turned out to be one of Santa Fe’s wettest summers, the season was an unquestionable success, creating both national and international attention.
Crosby’s tenure as general director was the longest of any opera company director in the US. In addition, between 1957 and 2005, the company staged 135 operas, 11 of which were world premieres and 41 were American premieres. Among the commissioned works which Crosby presented as world premieres are Carlisle Floyd’s Wuthering Heights during the second season in 1958 and Tobias Picker’s Emmeline in 1996, while distinguished American premieres include six operas by Richard Strauss (beginning with Capriccio, also a part of the second season in 1958) and six operas by Hans Werner Henze between 1965 and 2000.
Igor Stravinsky was to return to Santa Fe each summer until 1963 during which time he was given “an unmatched musical pulpit” with performances of six operas ranging from Oedipus Rex (1960) to Le Rossignol (1962 and 1963).
Under Crosby’s tenure, several distinguished singers made significant appearances at the Santa Fe Opera. In the case of two singers, Kiri Te Kanawa (in 1971 as the "Countess", prior to beginning her international career later that year in England) and Bryn Terfel (in 1991), these were US debuts. Some singers, such as Samuel Ramey, who was a former apprentice, returned in Carmen in 1975; other American singers such as Jerry Hadley, Dawn Upshaw, Patricia Racette and Susan Graham and James Morris (another apprentice), appeared early in their careers and several return regularly.
As Director, Crosby’s final appearance on the podium was on 24 August 2000, conducting the last night of Strauss’ Elektra. It was his 171st time conducting a Strauss opera and approximately his 567th time as conductor of the opera company.
Over his career, Crosby’s involvement in the world of opera included the presidency of the Manhattan School of Music for a decade from 1976, and a four-year presidency of the opera organization, Opera America from 1976.
In addition to five honorary doctorates, Crosby received the National Medal of Arts in 1991 and, in 1992, the German Order of Merit for services to German music.