When the University of Texas at El Paso stages its free performance of Handel’s English-language opera “Acis and Galatea” this Saturday, it will mark the latest expression of a century-old connection between El Paso and Bhutan.
The production—the culmination of a collaboration among the university, the El Paso Opera, and the Bhutanese Royal Academy of Performing Arts—got off the ground in 2004, when Aaron Carpenè, 50, an Australia-born conductor based in Italy had an idea: to stage a Western opera in the Himalayan kingdom. “Aaron casually asked me if opera had ever been performed in Bhutan,” recalled Preston Scott, a former adviser to the Bhutanese government. “I looked into it and found that it hadn’t—and that’s where the idea was born.”
Over the next few years, Carpenè, Scott, and the Italian director Stefano Vizioli approached several opera companies in Europe, the United States, and Australia to find a partner. But at the height of the recession, with shrinking budgets and declining audiences, none of the companies could take on the ambitious project. In 2008, an unlikely partner was contacted: UTEP, a