Chadley Ballantyne and Caitlin Cisler rehearse for “Rinaldo and the Galactic Crusades.”
Fresco Opera Theatre boldly takes opera where it has never gone before.
This weekend at the Overture Center Playhouse, Madison’s innovative opera troupe opens its 2015-2016 season with Rinaldo and the Galactic Crusades, a science fiction opera that, improbably, combines Handel with Star Wars.
When Handel’s opera, Rinaldo, premiered at the Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket in 1711, it was the first Italian-language opera written for the London stage. The story behind it is a tale of love and an earthly battle between good and evil. But after adding Joseph Varga’s inventive set design and a light saber battle here and there, the Playhouse stage looks more like a Star Wars flick than the site of an earthly conflict.
Frank Cain, Fresco Opera’s executive director, says the similarities between Rinaldo and 20 century sci-fi blockbusters are striking: “We’ve always wanted to do a Baroque opera, and Rinaldo stuck out because it followed the Star Wars saga from beginning to end.”
But the production will also follow Baroque opera conventions, which include giving heroic male roles to female singers.
The tale unfolds during a civil war in a galaxy far, far away, when the Empire, on the verge of defeat, calls for a truce with the rebels led by Commander Goffredo (Emily Roach) and his faithful soldier Rinaldo (Gillian Cotter). But the evil Lord Argante (Chadley Ballantyne) and Queen Armida (Caitlin Cisler) hatch an unsavory plan to use Princess Almirena (Rachel Edie Warrick) as bait to destroy the rebels and rule the galaxy.
Mermaids (Kristin Knutson and Christina Kay) and a sorcerer (George Abbott) will add magic, but Fresco Opera adds something that would have been alien in Baroque times: a droid (Jack Innes).
The music will follow Handel’s lovely but challenging score. Melanie Cain, Fresco Opera’s artistic director and stage director for this production, says the singers are amazing. “Baroque singing requires specific voice types to sing millions of notes,” she says. “They will sing the arias in Italian (with supertitles), but will use English spoken dialogue for the recitatives. I think this will make the opera more accessible and modern.”
A seven-piece ensemble, consisting of a string quartet with oboe, flute and piano, will keep the energy flowing.
Rinaldo and the Galactic Crusades opens Friday, June 5 at the Overture Center’s Playhouse and runs through June 7.