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Milko Encinas

by Andrew Korniej

A few weeks ago, I met everyone’s favorite Super, Milko Encinas, for lunch and to talk about his life and career on the operatic stage.

Anyone who has supered alongside the ebullient Milko will remember his infectious love of the experience and will surely have been the happy recipient of his hugs, kisses and "toi toi toi"s. He bounced into the restaurant aglow and not looking a day older than when I first met him, fourteen years ago. I tell him so. “Moisturizing – inside and out” he says, dismissively.

Milko was born in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. at the age of 21. For many years he worked for Nordstrom and has been a successful realtor for the past two years. He still sees the U.S. as a land of opportunities and endless possibilities and he says that his ultimate goal is to be able to take care of his family: his parents in the Philippines, his sisters, nephews and nieces. He is doing what he can to succeed in real estate to achieve that goal.

He comes from an artistic background, studied drama in school, and has a mother who sings and plays the piano. He practices Yoga and has the physical grace and poise of a dancer. He loves to travel (“it opens the mind”) and has been going back to the Philippines and other parts of Asia, regularly, and will be visiting Europe this year. Sadly, his marriage to Christopher did not outlast the year but he is enjoying the single life and working hard.

Two Dames Inspire

It always intrigues me how people come to opera, and to being a Super. For me, that moment came as a student when I was inspired to color my At History thesis with excessively florid prose as I sat in my little garret with a BBC radio broadcast of Tristan and Isolde swelling in the background (I had first heard the "Prelude" and "Liebestod" on the soundtrack of the Salvador Dali/Luis Bunuel Surrealist masterpiece Un Chien Andalou). For Milko, The Great Moment came 15 years ago as he was driving with his partner to Yosemite National Park on their way to Hetch Hetchy. The only radio reception they could find was a classical station and, as they entered the Park, Joan Sutherland was singing "Sempre Libera."

"It was tantalizing,” he says, “I was captivated and hypnotized by the music and the grandeur of nature. From then on I started listening to a little and thought ‘I could get into this’ and for Christmas that year I got the CD of Traviata." Then I started bringing opera into work. I was listening to Jessye Norman singing Carmen when a co-worker Tracy Tornquist overheard it and asked me if I liked opera (Tracy sang in the Opera Chorus). I told her I was learning about it and she explained what a Super is and gave me (Super Captain) Harrison Pierce’s number. I thought ‘This might be fun to do’ and I gave him a call.

“Harrison asked me a few questions about my background and then, a week later, called again and asked me to come to the ballet studio for Elektra. That was in 1991. I thought 'How easy!’ and went along thinking I already had a part. Once I was there, however, I realized that it was actually an audition. My heart was pounding and I thought that I should just leave. But the director broke us up into groups of seven and I was in the first group so I couldn’t leave. Then he told us to act like our favorite animal. I love cats and dogs but I saw that everyone else acting like cats and dogs all over the floor. So I just stood there, raised my arms and began slowly flapping them as though I was a bird. It was the longest two minutes in my life!”

Of course that scene-stealing movement got him the part and although he has been in many other productions (it happened that his first role was in Bellini’s I Capuletti, which preceded the Strauss that season) Elektra remains, to this day, his most memorable.

“It was the most engaging production, our curtain call and Gwyneth Jones was riveting, mesmerizing, especially in her opening 'Allein, allein.'" In fact he was able to pull off a very impressive impersonation of Dame Gwyneth’s rhythmic march towards the statue of her dead father, Agamemnon, by final dress. “I get some of their energy and I hope they get some of my enthusiasm.”

Milko’s Super career has gone through periods where he has had some of the most prominent Super roles ever, followed by stretches where other activities and interests have drawn him away from the War Memorial stage. Apart from the auspicious role in Elektra, he was one of the original monkey servants to Ping, Pang and Pong in the 1993 televised production of the David Hockney Turandot and was practically naked, but for a blue sequined G-string and a pair of cowboy boots (“Anything for Art”), in 1996’s Harvey Milk. But it was his star turn as an exotic eunuch in Giulio Cesare that captivated audiences and earned him a mention in Opera News and a coveted Hammy Award.

“I get excited”, he says “as I get to know the music, but I get even more excited when I get to know the artists; how could you not love (Cesare stars) David Daniels, Ruth Ann Swenson and Bejun Mehta? Getting to know these people, and what their energy is, gives me an elevated experience; interaction in an artistic medium catapults me to a different level every time and triggers my own creativity. I try to be enthusiastic about every role I do, no matter how different, and I hope that comes across.”

Milko approaches life in general with that enthusiasm, believes that we are all performers in our lives and should give it our best, all of the time. For him, being in an opera is not only fascinating and exciting but prompts him to give of his best. “I think about being onstage all the time and the excitement of the moment you go onstage,” he says. “You can have that feeling, that nervousness, in life. It starts from within.

“The singers care for and excel in their form and that inspires you to excel in what you do, even if it’s being a Super. It’s a team effort and the one common denominator is that we each have to do our best, each and every moment on stage. If Supering can remind you to do that in your life–go for it.”

Milko’s work in Real Estate has kept him too busy to appear in an opera since 2002’s Cesare, but will be treading the boards again this summer in the company debut of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers. In the meantime, enjoy a selection of photos of some of Milko's most memorable onstage characters in this gallery.