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Amargosa Opera House weekend goes from opera to paranormal

Marta Becket’s Amargosa Opera House is opening the fall season with a one-weekend combination featuring two of the attributes it’s best known for—classical musical theater and the paranormal.

On Friday, Oct. 26, the Sin City Opera Company performs “A Night at the Opera,” a retrospective of famous arias. On Saturday, Oct. 27, Pahrump’s own James Horton screens the world premiere of his horror film “Crossover.” Limited seating dinners are also available at the Amargosa Café each evening before the shows for ticket holders.

Ginger Land-van Buuren, executive director of Sin City Opera, said their upcoming show is essentially a greatest hits of Opera with pieces from Rigoletto, La Boheme, Carmen, La Traviata and other famous works. Sin City’s mission, she said, “is to get opera in front of and engage as many people as we can.”

The Sin City company works to update the classics and make them more accessible. It’s all about having fun, Land-van Buuren said. “We’ll be dressed up but you don’t have to be. It’s not so stuffy and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.” What matters, she said, is that when someone comes to the opera, “they’re going to be moved by beautiful music.”

Three performers will appear in the Friday show, which will last a little over an hour, Land-van Buuren said. Tickets are $30. All proceeds benefit the Amargosa Opera House Inc., nonprofit foundation.

After the performance, guests are invited to a champagne reception in the lobby of the Amargosa Hotel to celebrate the opening of the 51st season of the Amargosa Opera House, first opened by legendary dancer Marta Becket in 1967. Becket passed away in 2017, but in her lifetime was an ardent fan of the opera.

Also in her lifetime, Becket had some interesting brushes with the paranormal in Death Valley Junction.

She often spoke of incidents in the Opera House and the hotel, involving what she could only suppose were spirits of those who had inhabited the Junction before her. Becket’s experiences with the spirits there, and incidents reported by some visitors, have all been of the gentle variety—things moving or found in unexpected places, soft voices when no one was around. Eventually, the Amargosa Hotel gained a reputation as a destination for ghost hunters.

And that, said James Horton, is how, while watching an episode of the television show “Ghost Hunters” featuring the Amargosa Hotel, he got the inspiration to film his movie in Death Valley Junction.

Horton had been working on the idea for “Crossover” for some time, first as a short story and later as a film script. The story tells what happens to a television camera crew after they’re led to Death Valley Junction by the new host of a paranormal show. He’s been told by veteran ghost hunters to avoid this haunted hotel on one certain night of the year, but cavalierly disregards the warnings.

Horton had been searching for just the right location and, he said, the Amargosa Opera House couldn’t have been a more perfect match. After obtaining permission from Becket, Horton, who manages the Preferred RV Resort in Pahrump, gathered a group of investors, hired actors and some assistants out of Las Vegas and set out to bring his script to life on film.

He and his crew spent about nine months filming at and around the hotel on weekends, holidays, every chance they could all get together.

Horton, who said he’s been a fan of horror films since he was a kid, wanted to make a scary movie “based on suspense rather than shock value.” He didn’t have the budget for a lot of special effects so instead, said Horton, “we filled in the blanks by putting in the time, the creativity and ingenuity.”

Horton estimates that it took about 80 people, cast and crew, to complete the picture, which runs about an hour and 35 minutes long. Some of the crew will be with him on Saturday night for the premiere screening at the Opera House and will participate in a question-and-answer session after the show.

The core cast and crew became like family, Horton said, over those long nine months, and adopted Death Valley Junction and the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House as a sort of second home.

Local residents in Pahrump and the Tecopa/Shoshone area are likely to recognize many of the locations in the film, including areas around Pahrump, China Ranch and Mount Charleston. “Everywhere we shot for this movie was remote and isolated, “Horton said. “If there was no cell service, no bathroom and no one around for miles, that was probably one of our locations.”

“We’re really proud of this film and we hope people will come out and see it,” Horton said. He estimates that if the film were to receive an official rating, it might be given an ‘R’ because of foul language, but it has no graphic violence, no blood and gore, and no sex or nudity. It’s psychological horror in the Alfred Hitchcock style.

At present, the Opera House screening is the only locally scheduled showing. Horton hopes to take the film to market in southern California later in the year.

Robin Flinchum is a freelance writer and editor living in Tecopa, California.

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