Art Beat: State championship won, football player turns to opera

Mike Dunham
Zach Christy with West High teammates. He'll be in a different uniform as a member of the chorus in Anchorage Opera's upcoming production of "Lucia di Lammermoor."
Photo by Dori Ditmore, courtesy Rachel Christy.

High school football coaches hear a lot of excuses from players asking to duck out of practice, but West's Tim Davis probably wasn't expecting the request from defensive end Zach Christy last month.

"Every Thursday. I have to leave an hour early, Coach -- for opera rehearsals," he said.

Christy is singing bass in the chorus of Anchorage Opera's production of "Lucia di Lammermoor," which opens on Friday. His schedule is a little more open since the West Eagles nailed the state football championship on Oct. 26. "I get out at 2 p.m. now and have time to do homework before the rehearsal."

He previously sang with the Anchorage Opera chorus in "The Pirates of Penzance" this spring. "'Lucia' is very different from the goofy satire of 'Pirates,'" he said. "It's very man-heavy -- and very depressing when you read the Italian translated into English."

Christy said he started singing seriously as a seventh-grader. He continued in high school, even when it drew snarky remarks from his classmates.

"I was kind of scrawny in my freshman year, before football beefed me up," he said. "One guy told me, 'Oh, you're in choir. That's such a girl thing. You must be really fruity.' I said, 'I don't know. The odds are in my favor. There are 11 guys and 64 girls -- and one of them's your girlfriend."

Now in his senior year, 6-foot-8-inches tall and about 240 pounds, he doesn't get much teasing from anyone about anything. He plans to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage next year, taking courses toward an eventual degree in geology.

"Lucia" will be presented in the Discovery Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10. Soprano Amanda Hall will sing the title role on the first two nights; the Hartford Courant described the Yale School of Music graduate's Lucia as "insightful and expressive." Anchorage singer Jane Drebert will sing the part in the final performance.

Other local singers in named roles include Martin Eldred, Lisa Willis and Resty Yongo.

Christy said one thing that particularly attracted him to working with opera was the way it brings together people from various backgrounds, both as performers and boosters. "I thought it was really cool how the community is involved in this," he said. "It's really something special."

Hammer's last jam

After 37 years in Alaska, singer-songwriter Matt Hammer has announced he is leaving the state. He'll be joined by musical friends for one final open grand jam session starting at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10 at Tap Root, 3300 Spenard Rd. There will be no cover charge for the show.

Originally from Idaho Falls, Idaho, the teenage Hammer traveled the country playing whatever gigs he could and often thumbing a ride to the next venue. In 1976, he arrived in Alaska and fell in love with the place. His first album, "Front Page," came out two years later. One cut, "Free Alaska," caught on as a protest against the federal land policies of the Carter administration.

Hammer paired with local headliners like Doc Schultz and Loren Arment in musical partnerships that toured the state over the decades. He started the Great Alaskan Opry and his own Matt Hammer Band and opened for a long list of visiting stars, including Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Hoyt Axton, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Goodman and Air Supply.

Last year, he and several other performers who all happened to be born in 1952 celebrated their 60th birthdays by forming an oldies band, '52 FORD (Funky Old Rockin' Dudes), that packed the house at the Anchorage Senior Activity Center and performed at the Alaska State Fair in August.

Other recordings by Hammer, "Alaskasongs" (1998) and "Surreal Sessions" (2008), remain widely available years after their release.

In a press release, Hammer said he was departing the 49th state to spend more time with relatives in the lower 48. "The only thing that means more to me than Alaska is my family," he said. "That's why I have to go."

Get to the show on Alaska Standard Time

A reminder to everyone planning on catching a show or concert today: daylight saving time ended while most of us were asleep. Push your clocks back one hour and plan accordingly for what looks like a particularly busy Sunday lineup. Notable events today that may have slipped under the radar include:

Rick Zelinsky's "Tribute to the Jazz Masters" Series, 4 p.m. at the UAA Arts Building Recital Hall. Admission is $18, $10 for students.

"Tango's History Through Music and Dance," 4:30 p.m. at Anchorage Lutheran Church, 1420 N St. Dancers Jocelyn Paine and Keith Jenkins are accompanied by Liu Shiu Kuo in the first-ever dance program in the concert series at the church. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

"Jazz Fighting Hunger," 6 p.m. at the Anchorage Museum, 625 C St. A reception catered by Marx Brothers precedes the concert. Bass man and chief organizer Ray Booker is joined by local jazz stars like Tom Bargelski and Pat Owens. Guest artists include songstress Brenda Vulgamore and an appearance by Pamyua. Admission is $50, with all money going to the Food Bank of Alaska.

"Messiah" rehearsals, 2 p.m. at Central Lutheran Church, 1420 Cordova St. The Anchorage Concert Chorus invites everyone age 16 and older with a set of vocal chords to join in an upcoming performance of Handel's hit oratorio. Rehearsals will continue on Sundays and all they ask is that you make at least three of the practice sessions. More at

For other events -- and there are a lot this month -- go to

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.