In this year’s Aspen Elementary School third grade play, a hilarious yet educational romp through Aspen’s history, there’s a scene about the Wheeler Opera House and its venerated place in the mining era as a hub of cultural and societal activity.
“Is it true, Mr. Wheeler, is it true?” the fictional young Aspenites chant as they hear about the silver magnate’s grandiose plans for a world-class entertainment venue in the mining camp and then excitedly prepare for an evening at the opera house.
I was reminded of that scene as I scanned this week’s local calendar of events, easily finding half a dozen events at the Wheeler that not only piqued my interest, but that seemed to have broad appeal over a wide range of genres to an Aspen audience. It’s easy to take the Wheeler for granted, but when you think about it, between its history, enduring architecture and design and top-notch programming, it’s a truly special venue. Here are a few of the shows you might want to check out in the next week.
ABBA Mania. Friday, March 1, 7:30 p.m. A huge hit when it came through town last year, this ABBA tribute show does more than just belt out the Swedish supergroup’s greatest hits. A spectacular light show, sensational costumes and choreographed dancing add to the immersive entertainment of singing and grooving along with some of the most memorable, catchy tunes of the ’70s. Formed in 1999, ABBA Mania has played over 3,000 live concerts in 30 countries worldwide. The touring cast includes professional actors, musicians and entertainers. Some say they’re even better than the original. This is just a fun, uplifting night out, appealing across generations. Take a chance on ABBA Mania — you’ll have the time of your life.
Improvised Shakespeare. Saturday, March 2, 7:30 p.m. Aspen has never seen anything quite like this Shakespeare improv show. As promoter (and Aspen Daily News ad rep) Josh Behrman explains it, it’s like taking Second City, the legendary Chicago improv troupe, and applying Shakespeare. Each show starts with an audience suggestion — a Shakespearean quote or concept — and the troupe runs with it, sans script, rehearsal or any plan whatsoever. Well versed in all of the bard’s drama, tragedy and vivid use of language, this group puts a spin on the 16th-century playwright’s work that’s completely original, smart and wildly comedic. Having sold out theaters in their native Chicago, Denver and elsewhere, this is their first appearance in Aspen.
The Met: Live in HD – Verdi’s La Traviata. Thursday, March 7, 5:30 p.m. Perhaps the next best thing to seeing a live opera at the Wheeler Opera House is watching the simulcast of one. The Wheeler’s ornate Victorian gilding and red velvet accents are the perfect backdrop for a high-definition screen broadcasting Verdi’s tragic love story of Violetta and Alfredo. In this production, the dazzling 18th-century setting changes with the seasons, and the voices of soprano Diana Damrau and tenor Juan Diego Florez are sure to fill every corner. Whether you’re an opera fan or a newcomer to the genre, consider yourself lucky to be able to watch one of these exceptional productions in the comfort of your hometown opera house.