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Putting the opera back in Amargosa Opera House

With a flurry of flamboyant 19th-century skirts, classic dramatic arias, and an original script written for the backdrop of Marta Becket’s stage, Master Mystery Productions out of Ridgecrest, California, promises to put the opera back in the Amargosa Opera House this spring.

“Exit Prima Donna,” billed as a murder mystery masquerade, debuts in a Saturday matinee performance on March 24 and runs each Saturday through April 14. Writer Daniel Stallings calls the show a “mystery set to music using some of the greatest arias in the world … in the most incredible venue ever.”

The setting is Venice, Italy, in the year 1899. It’s the end of the Teatro Venizio opera season and Donnatella Violetta is expected backstage by her dresser Leonora, to get ready for a masquerade ball. But the prima donna has disappeared and Leonora vows to wait for her through the long night.

In the morning, “the players return to find Leonora as a sleeping beauty, murdered from pricking her finger on a needle tainted with belladonna,” wrote Stallings in the show’s synopsis. “Was Leonora the intended victim? Or did someone want to make the prima donna exit the stage forever?”

This is a story about “passion, loyalty, obsession and revenge,” said Stallings, and is one of his more lavish productions.

However the show was written specifically for the Opera House stage and doesn’t require special sets, which makes it easier to bring the entire works the 150 or so miles over the Panamint Range, through Death Valley and onto the Opera House stage.

“Exit Prima Donna” has a cast of 10 actors, including Elizabeth Pomazal, who performed at the Opera House in the past with the Ridgecrest Opera Guild. They will appear in historical costumes custom-made for this show, said Stallings.

According to Stallings, “The show is structured more like a traditional stage musical with English-spoken dialogue and interspersed songs from all kinds of opera integrated into the plot. The songs will be sung in their original language with the staging used to tell the story of the song’s lyrics. The main bulk of the show is in English to allow the audiences to solve the mystery.”

‘Boutique style’

Stallings is the creator of Master Mystery Productions, a company formed to present what he calls “boutique style shows.”

These are plays, usually mysteries, written specifically for a particular venue. The company started their first production in a Ridgecrest tea shop three years ago, Stallings said, and it quickly grew in popularity. “Exit Prima Donna” is Master Mystery’s 18th production.

The collaboration with the Amargosa Opera House was a natural fit, said Fred Conboy, president of the board of directors of AOH Inc., nonprofit. “Marta loved classical opera and was thrilled when Celese Sanders and Elizabeth Pomazal performed there together during Marta’s life. It perfectly fulfilled Marta’s desire that her 16th century-inspired Amargosa Opera House become the venue for, and give voice to, this beloved classical art form involving the sister arts of song, dance and drama.”

Conboy added that he hopes to see more opera-themed events at the Amargosa Opera House.

Stallings said he has visited the venue several times, made many sketches and taken photographs to use in choreographing the show. The actors all rehearsed the show in Ridgecrest, but some of them have been to the Opera House and even performed there with the Ridgecrest Opera Guild, Stallings said.

“Exit Prima Donna” was designed to complement Becket’s vision. One of the characters, a theatrical rival of Donatella Violetta’s, is even named Marta.

The character isn’t meant to portray Becket at all, Stallings said, but he wanted to honor her within the show. Stallings said he hopes Becket would be pleased if she could see the production, which was created with “sympathy for the space, for what Marta created, for the history of the opera and of the theater.”

The show is close to three hours long, Stallings said, and is probably best suited for attendees age 15 and up for some dark thematic elements. No foul language or gore, Stallings said, but the drama could be distressing for young children.

Robin Flinchum is a freelance writer and editor living in Tecopa, California. Her book, “Red Light Women of Death Valley,” was published last year.

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