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Show goes on for TOP gala

Townsend Opera Players founder Erik Buck Townsend died nearly three weeks ago, and his company will honor his dream by moving forward with its new season.

The Modesto group will have its annual opera gala as scheduled Sunday afternoon at the Gallo Center for the Arts.

"Everybody knows it was his dream for the opera company to continue," Executive Director Matthew Buckman said.

Unlike in past years, when the gala served as a preview for the season with short staged scenes of shows, this year's program will feature just opera hits. Townsend was involved in the planning and helped choose the music with Principal Conductor Ryan Murray.

"It's opera without the wait," Murray said. "Everybody goes to see their favorite 15 minutes and they wait three hours for it. We've taken all the favorites of the repertoire and put it into a one-hour, 45-minute show."

The program will feature selections from "The Marriage of Figaro," "Lakme," "Don Pasquale," "Rusalka," "La Traviata," "Jekyll and Hyde" and "The Pearl Fisher."

Stockton Symphony Music Director Peter Jaffe will narrate, and about 40 singers will perform, including children's and adult choruses.

Among the dozen soloists are Jonathan Smucker, an experienced Bay Area professional; Rachel Endsley, who studied at California State University, Stanislaus, and Fresno State; Donn Bradley, a music student at California State University, Stanislaus; Andrew Pardini, a music student at the University of Southern California; and Kelsey Schuller, a graduate of Dordt College in Iowa.

In accordance with the Townsend family's wishes, there will be no special tribute to Townsend, though the concert will be dedicated to him. Townsend wanted the show to go on as planned.

"The gala is going to be a fun, enjoyable, light evening with a lot of beautiful music," Murray said.