A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Mar 19, 2013
03:58 PM

Fresco Opera Theatre Gets Real

Fresco Opera Theatre Gets Real

Spend a little time watching reality television, and you start to recognize patterns. In practically every cast there’s the rebel, the naïve girl, the hero, the guy who finds himself, and so on.

It’s really not that different from characters in opera, says Melanie Cain, artistic director and cofounder of Fresco Opera Theatre. The company’s playing up these similarities in its latest production, The Real Divas of Dane County, running March 22–24 at Overture Center.

“Our first thought was, what would happen if we put opera singers in a house,” Cain says. So she and her team drew from such reality TV shows as the Real World, Jersey Shore and the Real Housewives and created an opera about fourteen opera singers living in a house overlooking Lake Monona and the Madison skyline.

They culled arias from opera’s four-hundred-year history, choosing works by Mozart, Verdi, Copland and others that would suit the storyline.

“It’s amazing how it fits in,” Cain says. “The story wrote itself, pretty much, once we watched some Jersey Shore.”

The characters in The Real Divas also hail from opera’s heritage.

Ladies’ man Gino is a combination of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Jersey Shore’s Pauly D, while Carmen, inspired by Bizet’s title character, is the promiscuous female roommate.

Copland’s The Tender Land offers Laurie, a young girl living in the big city for the first time, and Wagner’s Brunhilde becomes Hilda, a biker chick. Cain plays Nora, an angsty, nose-ringed emo girl based on Verdi’s Leonora.

A variety of opera singer stereotypes come together in Donna, short for “prima donna.” And Papageno is a chicken-owning liberal inspired by the birdman from The Magic Flute.


Opera buffs should appreciate the humor, but novices will have fun too, says Cain, who’s quick to point out that playing with opera doesn’t mean dumbing it down.

“Our goal is to make opera more accessible—to everyone,” she says.

That’s not to say creating The Real Divas hasn’t been enjoyable for Cain and her team. “It’s a blast,” she says.

And the show’s singers—most from Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis—have appreciated the opportunity as well. Many have sung the featured arias before, but they’ve never has such freedom to make the characters their own.

“I let them have a say in how they want to develop them,” Cain says. “They really take them and run with them.”

In Fresco’s tradition of mixing opera with other art forms, The Real Divas includes singing, spoken dialogue and pre-taped elements—of the singers gossiping at Barriques, dancing at PlanB and shopping at stores around Madison. Audiences will feel as though they’re watching a live taping of a reality show.

The show also delves into some serious issues: one character comes out to his roommates, while another deals with suicide.

And the finale cleverly invokes Mozart’s The Impressario, toying with the questions of what’s reality, what’s art and what’s purely for show.

The Real Divas of Dane County runs March 22–24 at Overture Center. For more information, visit frescooperatheatre.com.

Photos courtesy of Fresco Opera Theatre.

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About This Blog

As managing editor at Madison Magazine, I'm also an unabashed arts enthusiast. Paintings, plays, music, movies—I'm intrigued by all forms of creative expression. I enjoy talking with artists and sharing their insights, challenges, inspirations and latest endeavors. Check in regularly for details on events, previews and reviews, artist interviews and more! 

– Katie Vaughn
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