It ain't your grandparents' opera.
Fresco Opera Theatre is opera as if P.T. Barnum had to reinvent it for Lady Gaga: fast, sexy, short and as snarky as possible.
Madison's newest performance troupe looks forward to madly combining the fustiest of art forms with children's tea parties, game shows, puppet shows and pro wrestling. The company premieres Dueling Divas at the Overture Center on March 5 in a winner-take-all throwdown complete with cheering entourages, staged ring-style with a $250 purse.
More seriously, the loss of classical music fans is a concern of arts groups nationwide. As joyous as it is for sophisticates, the typical opera's three or even four hours wear thin on the texting/iPod generation.
Fresco Opera Theatre saw no need to replicate the work of the Madison and University of Wisconsin opera companies. "Those programs are doing wonderful jobs," says Frank Cain, Fresco executive director. His wife, Melanie Cain, a veteran of University Opera and Iowa's Dorian Opera Theatre, is artistic director. "We want to take an avant-garde approach to our package and delivery."
Gone are recitatives - song-spoken dialogue. Fresco envisions unconventional presentations aimed straight at opera-haters.
"A lot of folks have a lot of things going on, whether it's family or work. So to be able to get this genre in, in a quick and successful way, is what we're all about," says Frank.
It's not a new idea. "There are other companies throughout the country who are doing things like this, in New York and Chicago," he says.
"It's not about changing the genre," says Cain. "It's about getting people who have never seen an opera to say, 'Okay, let's go to see the full-length thing and see what this is all about.'"
Future concepts include "Ding Dong, the Diva's Dead." "It will be all death scenes from opera," says Cain.
The company is already a state nonprofit but not yet a federal tax-exempt corporation. Until then, Arts Wisconsin, a state arts-advocacy group, is serving as fiscal receiver. No public grantors have so far been found, but private money is coming in. And Overture, which Fresco hopes will be its home stage, has kicked in help with its first-time presenter program.
Despite all the innovation, some elements must remain the same. "I have a Viking helmet," says Cain. "I need to work that in."