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Vegas City Opera Performing At Smith Center, Old Mining Town

The Amargosa Opera House was built in the 1920s in what was then a mining boomtown. The Vegas City Opera performs there Saturday.
Graham Rogers via Wikimedia Commons

The Amargosa Opera House was built in the 1920s in what was then a mining boomtown. The Vegas City Opera performs there Saturday.

The Vegas City Opera is planning for its first show at the Smith Center.

Up first, though, the Amargosa Opera House on the outskirts of Death Valley.

Performing at the toniest venue in Las Vegas and in a near ghost town reflect the mission of the company to take opera to the people, according to company co-founder and Executive Director Ginger Land-van Buuren.

She said Vegas City Opera has grown with the community, prompting a change in name this year from Sin City Opera, which didn’t fit well with the organization’s expanding youth outreach programs.

“We’ve become something very different then what we started,” Land-van Buuren told State of Nevada. “We’ve kept the cheekiness and our reinvention of the genre of opera.”

Eugene Richards III as the "Dutchman"/Photo by Richard Brusky

The company features lighter, shorter, and less-staged performances than traditional opera, which allows it to more easily travel.

On Saturday night that means a trip 90 miles west of Las Vegas to the Amargosa Opera House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and still uses the “tin can” stage lighting familiar to performers from a century ago.

When Land-van Burren first saw the opera house, which famously has its own hand-painted audience, she knew she wanted the company to perform there.

Travis Lewis as Daland and Karsten Pudwill as the Steerman from "The Dutchman"/Photo by Richard Brusky 

“We have these historical landmarks, why not fill them with voices that they were originally meant for,” Land-van Buuren said.

Skip Galla Katipunan is the artistic director for Vegas City Opera. He said the company will be performing "The Face on the Barroom Floor."

“We’ve integrated the piece with – we call it a pop saloon. We’ve written some new vocal pieces of modern pop music… that are set to early 1900s, late 1800s piano saloon music and we’re using that to kind of lubricate the audience into this involved and believable experience," he said.

While it sounds like the piece will fit nicely with the historic theater, there are challenges to staging something in an old theater. Katipunan said selling the opera to the audience will take the creativity of the players.

Later in its season, Vegas City Opera will make its debut at the Smith Center in March, performing "The Daughter of the Regiment" at the Troesh Studio Theater.

Land-van Buuren said they would eventually like to set up permanently at the Smith Center. 

“Look at what the ballet has been able to do, look at…the philharmonic, we do have a need and a love for the classical arts,” she said.

She believes her opera company's honest presentation of the centuries-old art form suits Las Vegas and, “the more that people take a chance on it the more they’ll love it.”

Katipunan said people ask them all the time if Las Vegas even has opera singers and the answer is an unequivocal - yes!

“What we’re trying to do is build a platform for those people to exist and to perform and work and continue to grow and enrich our community,” he said.

"Gianni Schicchi" cast Richard Hodges, Alex Mendoza, Migual Alasco, Ginger Land-van Buuren, Skip Gallla Katipunan, Emily Kurcan Stephenson, Meric Pittman/Photo Richard Brusky

Ginger Land-van Buuren, executive director, Vegas City Opera;  Skip Galla Katipunan, artistic director, Vegas City Opera


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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.