Friday, September 16, 2016


This week's arts and culture piece is on a California desert institution: Marta Becket and the Amargosa Opera House.

It begins like this:

Several springs ago, I took a road trip to Death Valley, stayed at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel and fell in love with Marta Becket.

I never actually saw Marta — the opera house’s founder, owner and, for more than four decades, its star solo performer. At the age of 84 at that point, she performed only Saturday nights. But I did fall in love with her story.

In 1967, Marta (b. 1924), a New York ballerina, singer, painter and pianist on a road trip to California with her husband, stopped in Death Valley Junction with a flat tire. While their car was being fixed, she peeked through the window of a dilapidated dance hall, deserted since mining days, and saw her future: her unlived life, her destiny. So she and her husband packed up, moved, rented the dance hall and opened the opera house.

Death Valley Junction at one point had a population of two, and has topped out over the years at roughly 20.

The first show was in February 1968. The audience would often be five or six people and if nobody came, as happened frequently, Marta danced anyway. In the middle of the desert, by herself, she danced anyway.


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