What started as Buck Townsend’s impossible dream of a professional opera company in Central California will celebrate 40 years since it first became an improbable reality.
Opera Modesto — formerly known as Townsend Opera Players — will hold its 40th anniversary gala on Sunday at the Gallo Center for the Arts’ Rogers Theater.
“Buck’s impossible dream of a professional opera company in the Central Valley came true through his own Herculean efforts, with the devoted help of his wife and business partner, Erika Townsend, and many other people in the community,” Roy Stevens, Modesto Opera general director, said in a press release.
The gala gets under way at 4 p.m., featuring past, present and potential future stars of the company. Tickets range in price from $20 to $89 and can be purchased at the door or by visiting GalloArts.org.
The performance will include such operatic standards as “O Mio Babbino Caro,” “Nessun Dorma” and the “Torreador Song” from “Carmen.”
“Sunday’s performance will feature three of the top hits that everyone will recognize, even if they’re not familiar with opera,” said Stevens, who has been an international opera singer since 1987 and took over leadership of the company in 2018.
But there’s more on tap than just opera.
Three dance groups will be on hand to perform and there will be a violin soloist to accompany Stevens and his wife, artistic director Annalisa Winberg, in a duet. They will also be accompanied by two dancers from Central West Ballet. Additionally, there will be appearances by the Juline Youth Regional Ballet, and the Ballet Folklorico Tradiciones of Casa Cultural.
And the winner of the Kristina Townsend Memorial Vocal Competition — named in honor of Townsend’s daughter who died from leukemia as a child — will be among the gala’s performers.
The evening will begin with Townsend’s voice singing “The Impossible Dream” from “Man from La Mancha” — a tribute to his dream of bringing opera to the Central Valley.
Tickets for a pre-gala celebration cost $25. It will feature food and entertainment in the third-floor lobby. The pre-gala event begins at 2:30 p.m.
There may even be a few words from Townsend’s widow, Erika Townsend, who co-founded TOP with her husband when the couple returned to Buck’s hometown — he was a 1954 graduate of Modesto High — after living and working in New York City.
“Roy wants me to get up and talk,” said Townsend, who was born and raised in the Big Apple. “I’m a dancer, what am I going to say? All I really want to say is ‘thank you.’
“It’s wild, how it became this impossible dream. He sang in all the big shows. He didn’t become a household name, but he sang in everything. And then, one day, he said, ‘I want to go home.’”
In other opera news, Stevens has been named a Fulbright Specialist for the 2022-2025 term, meaning he’s available to embassies all over the world that want to benefit from his expertise.
Stevens will leave next month for Nepal, where he will be working with One World Theatre on a fusion piece that combines the Shakespeare play “Macbeth” with the Italian opera version of the Bard’s play.
“It’s going to be really fun,” said Stevens.