‘I went to clean out the garage—and an opera broke out’

‘I went to clean out the garage—and an opera broke out’
Christina Kay (left) and Jessica Gimman.

OK, so you’ll probably have had advance notice if a scaled-down, but compelling and fun version of the opera Hansel and Gretel were to pop up in your garage this weekend. But thanks to Fresco Opera Theatre, you can take one look at your own garage, change your mind about spending the afternoon cleaning it and take a walk or short drive across town to enjoy opera in someone else’s back (or front) yard.

For that matter, it could be the perfect way to break up a day of seasonal cleaning and yard work, as Fresco founders Frank and Melanie Cain have scaled the popular three-hour work down to about an hour. “Garage opera” is just the latest out-of-the-box (and in this case, out-of-the-theater!) incarnation of the Cains’ continuing desire to bring quality opera to folks who probably haven’t experienced it before. After several lively and successful twists on traditional opera in the smaller venues of Overture Center—which did bring in audiences who mostly hadn’t been to a traditional opera—Frank and Melanie wanted to come up with a way to further broaden their outreach.

Frank Cain gave a capsule summation of how “garage opera” came about: “We’ve had great success with ‘opera unplugged,’ where we performed arias at the Farmers Market with just guitar, violin and cello. But we eventually asked ourselves, how can get even more community involvement? I thought about garage bands, and wondered if we could create that same sort of rawness with a feeling of backyard theater.”

So how does one take the quasi-Wagnerian, three-hour fairy tale of Engelbert Humperdinck and fit it to a suburban garage?

“First of all, we chose Hansel and Gretel because we love the music, and felt it was perfect for people who don’t know opera—but probably know the story. We focus on only four characters, Hansel and Gretel, the Sandman and the Witch. The accompaniment is keyboard, and we have a narrator to fill in the gaps that come up when you condense it. It keeps Fresco Opera focused on our mission, which is to keep opera fresh and available to everyone.”

The production also provides some work and great experience to young professional singers, such as Christian Kay and Jessica Gimman (pictured above.) There are four performances over the next two weekends, all at 2 p.m.:
October 3 at 901 Turnberry Drive, Waunakee; October 4 at 1248 Mockingbird Lane, Sun Prairie; October 10 at 21 La Crescenta Circle, Madison, and October 11 at 3301 Derby Down, Madison. Admission is free (donations are welcome), and you should bring your own chair or blanket. They’ll have the remote handy when it’s time for the garage door to go up.