When Las Vegas community theaters went dark due to the coronavirus shutdown, it was particularly lamentable for opera lovers.
Vegas City Opera (VCO) was poised to make their Smith Center debut in March with a delightfully reimagined production of La fille du régiment (“The Daughter of the Regiment”) by Donizetti.
What makes VCO such an important new voice in American opera is the company’s willingness to take opera seriously without treating it like a museum piece. Their “Daughter of the Regiment” was to feature a vibrant new book in English “with enough French to make it fancy,” said company artistic director Skip Galla Katipunan.
Galla Katipunan, whose “day job” is as an infectious disease prevention nurse at UMC, is busy saving lives on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The arts and healthcare is a peculiar precipice to straddle, especially now,” Galla Katipunan said. “I would be lying if I said we are sleeping too much! Our department is now working seven days a week and we are on call 24 hours a day.
“We are all working very hard in a very stressful environment, and although UMC is doing a great job supporting its staff, nothing can prepare you for this kind of work.”
“The nationwide personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage has hit frontline staff so hard,” he said, adding that the support of infectious disease prevention nurses is urgently needed to help keep both staff and patients safe.
“All of this while VCO is shutting down performances and diving into reprogramming.” Galla Katipunan said. “The arts are vital to our community at a time like this and we are fighting to keep our singers and crew supported and to deliver their work in new ways despite an uphill battle.”
“Fortunately,” Galla Katipunan added, “none of our singers have suffered any serious health problems related to COVID-19.
“Vegas City Opera and many of our colleague companies and partners made the difficult decision early on to close down our shows and do our part to keep our performers and crew members safe.”
As Las Vegas enters Phase 1 of Gov. Sisolak’s plan to reopen Nevada businesses, Galla Katipunan said, “We are watching what is happening with theatre across the country and remaining hopeful.
“We do know that VCO will not reopen its doors until we feel confident that we can honor social distancing recommendations and give our performers and audiences a safe space.”
The good news said VCO’s co-founder, Ginger Land-van Buuren, is that the company has rescheduled their Smith Center debut for March 19 and 20, 2021.
VCO plans to co-produce with Poor Richard’s Players a musical version of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic, “The Time Machine,” at The Playhouse in September. The production had originally been scheduled for April. Go to www.thetimemachinethemusical.com/ for more about the show.
“But will they come when you do call for them?” asked Shakespeare, no doubt worried about the popular reception of a new play.
Galla Katipunan said, “This is scary to me, and also exciting. As a director, I have always believed that theatre’s job is to spark conversation, to inspire growth, and to bond communities.
“As our city redefines itself in the wake of this pandemic, I believe that artists are in the unique position to heal us.” He said, “COVID-19 has driven us physically apart, literally isolated us. Theatre has the power to bring us back together.”
To keep audiences engaged, VCO has launched its Wine Wednesdays Series online at facebook.com/VegasCityOpera/. The company also offers livestream concerts and streams of past company hits on their You Tube channel. For more info go to www.vegascityopera.org.
Looking to the future, Ginger Land-van Buuren said, “VCO is working with new digital and streaming services to look at modern performance options and integrations. Everything from unique spaces to giant projections of concerts and works.”
The battle is not yet over.
“It can be heartbreaking to watch patients struggle with illness during this time of limited visitors, so we do everything we can to provide support – phone calls and FaceTime with loved ones, increased staff support at the bedside,” Galla Katipunan said. “Our staff at UMC is amazingly supportive of each other. I love the sense of family there.”
He added: “The work is hard, and our heads are down, we are focused and in the zone. We’re trying to take care of ourselves, take care of our families, and take care of our community.
“This makes it all the more beautiful when we see signs of support coming from all directions: chalked on walls, all over social media. We even had a masked mob of friends show up in our street one day with signs and little presents. They even brought a ‘Social Distancing Piñata!’
“As I watch patients at the hospital fighting for their own recovery, I also see artists in our community desperate for relief in other ways from the devastating effects of this pandemic and the associated economic instability,” Galla Katipunun said.
“We still have local artists that are not receiving any kind of financial support because the gig worker culture of artists is bafflingly somehow considered to be less than by the people who have the power to enact change to support them.
“I do get to go home every day to my husband, Jarius Katipunan, who is temporarily unemployed from his position as master pastry cook at Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand.”
Galla Katipunan said that his husband is “amazingly supportive” and keeps him grounded at a time when on some days he arrives home shell shocked.
But Galla Katipunan admitted that while socially distancing together during the shutdown, “We also drive each other a little crazy too.”