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Amargosa Opera House’s grand diva Becket returns

Entertainment history is filled with amazing comeback stories, but the return to the stage of Death Valley ballerina Marta Becket just might top them all.

Sinatra’s throat trouble was nothing compared to the medical maladies Becket has endured in recent years. The 89-year-old grand diva of the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction, Calif., has managed to fend off the ravages of age and infirmity once more.

With help from her friend Sandy Scheller and a reliable circle of supporters, Becket is planning a celebratory stage appearance for 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10 at the opera house.

In recent months, Becket’s physical condition and the status of the foundation that operated the opera house and its small hotel entered the news – and not in a positive light. Inyo County, Calif., adult protective authorities focused on the treatment she was receiving, and changes were made that appear to have given her new energy to go along with her amazing outlook on art and life.

“The stage now belongs to Ms. Becket and she never has to fear of people invading (Death Valley Junction) for the wrong reasons,” Scheller writes. “Still there is much to do with repairs, reconnecting with her fans and following, all without Facebook or social media.”

By now Becket’s life story is well known to lovers of dance and desert lore. Born in 1924, as a girl growing up in New York City she studied dance and theater and enjoyed substantial success.

But it was a fortuitous flat tire in 1967 in Death Valley Junction that changed her artistic and personal life forever. She noticed a rundown community hall that had once been used as a theater by the Pacific Borax Company in the care-worn mining town. In a moment her vision was clear: She would reinvent the hall as the Amargosa Opera House.

It was a theater company of one that played to an equally creative mural of dignitaries of her own creation and often to capacity crowds of tourists and desert rats.

National magazines and newspaper feature writers made their way to her door, and in 2000 filmmaker Todd Robinson’s “Amargosa” about her remarkable life was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary category.

Less well understood are the challenges she’s faced in recent years from her own health problems and troubles she experienced in the management of the opera house and its hotel. But those challenges appear to be resolved.

She is back where she belongs.

As Becket said so beautifully in her 2006 memoir “To Dance on Sands,” “When I ache, when I’m tired or just lonely living in the town on my own, I know I have to keep on going. I walk into my theater and see my stage which still calls out to me and pleads, ‘Use me. Create for me.’ It’s there ready to offer itself for more creatively. It is up to me to use it again. My theater says to me, ‘Take me. Do something with me. I’m ready for the challenge. Give me something to live for; something to look forward to.’

“I am grateful to have found a place where I can fulfill my dreams and share them with the passing scene for as long as I can.”

Whether Marta Becket’s comeback lasts one performance or 100, it adds a delightful and unexpected chapter to her amazing artistic legacy.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702 383-0295 or at jsmith@reviewjournall.com.

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