When Luke Walrath and Betsi Morrison were contemplating what they wanted the 15th year of the Alpine Theatre Project to look like in 2019, they knew they wanted to get more involved with classical music like opera, but not necessarily in the ways audiences may have seen it before.
The husband-and-wife duo responsible for ATP’s start and continued existence knew the Flathead Valley had come to expect top talent from their productions, but also a sense of magic, of something new and exciting.
“We hadn’t really approached the classical world much,” Walrath said. “Betsi said, ‘I want to do it in some weird way, I don’t want everyone to sit down and listen to someone sing in front of the piano.’ There’s a place for that, but we’re just a little more theatrical than that.”
ATP saw considerable success in its summer burlesque shows, and Walrath and Morrison had the idea to get in touch with some of the best artists in the country and merge opera music with a burlesque show, creating OperaLesque.
OperaLesque takes place Feb. 14-16 at ATP’s creative space, The Garage in Whitefish. The evening shows will feature some of the country’s best opera singers from the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera combining their talents with burlesque.
Performers include some of the nation’s top talent, with Glenn Seven Allen of the New York City Opera; Sharin Apostolou of the New York City Opera; Melanie Long of the New York City Opera and Hot Box Girls; Marcy Richardson of the Central City Opera and Company XIV; Jorell Williams of the Metropolitan Opera and Jazz at Lincoln Center; and Billy Thompson on piano.
Tables will be set up throughout The Garage, and the performances, both vocal and physical, will happen all around the audience, not just on the stage. Audience members will be able to enjoy chocolate fondue and cocktails with the show.
The show allows ATP to start its focus of spreading out shows throughout the year instead of jamming most of them into the busy summer months. They had been looking for a Valentine’s Day idea, Walrath said, so Morrison started reaching out to her contacts in the opera world.
Turns out their brilliant idea of combining opera and burlesque already has roots elsewhere.
“Betsi thought, ‘This is novel and interesting,’ and in speaking with our opera friends, apparently it’s not that novel,” Walrath said with a laugh.
“This is a really hot thing in the opera world right now.”
It takes a special kind of talent to be able to perform such shows, he said. Not only is opera incredibly skilled artistry, so are burlesque and other circus acts that will take place during the evening, such as aerial silks and hoops.
“To have the wherewithal to be literally hanging upside down while singing Mozart, we thought we’ve got to do this,” Walrath said.
There’s always a question of how far to go with nudity when bringing in a burlesque production, he said. The shows on the 14th and 15th will maintain the illusion of nudity, but the late-night show on the 16th will “go all the way” with partial nudity, Walrath said.
That show has, predictably, already sold out, and the remaining shows only had several tickets left as of this Feb. 8 writing.
OperaLesque is a way to start off their 15th year with energy, Walrath said, adding that ATP intends to perform a production of the musical classic “Jesus Christ Superstar” in March.
The upcoming show is also an indication that even after 15 years, ATP is still looking for new and fun ways to entertain the Flathead Valley.
“It’s a maiden voyage for us. The only way that we’ve stayed alive this long is by constantly trying to adapt and adjust and we wanted to celebrate that this year,” Walrath said. “We wanted to open everything with something different, something that audiences around here probably haven’t seen.”
For more information on Alpine Theatre Project, visit www.atpwhitefish.org.