Those with an appetite for opera have another opportunity to sample the genre locally, thanks to the launch of Fresco Opera Theatre.

Fresco, founded last month by Melanie and Frank Cain, sees itself as an alternative for people who could love opera but want it presented a bit differently — shorter, with a modern sensibility and a mischievous disregard for convention.

Some of the Cains’ ideas threaten to give purists an aneurysm. They talk of tossing out recitative (operatic dialogue) and presenting hour-long versions of famous operas, or taking arias from different operas and writing a new storyline to fit them.

“We want to appeal to those in the community that can’t or won’t commit to a full-length opera,” Frank Cain said. “We want to present opera in a modern package, with theme concerts and fusion with other, modern genres.”

But does Madison need another opera company? Madison Opera brings arias to the masses every summer at its popular Opera in the Park event, and its season opener, “Carmen,” sold out two performances in Overture Hall.

Opera for the Young brings opera into the classroom for students. University Opera is a training ground for serious young talent, even providing opportunities to premiere work, like in Maura Bosch’s “Art and Desire” last spring. And Madison Song Masters was formed by Joseph Brachmann in early fall as a venue for singers to perform arias out of context.

“When you have perhaps less than a handful of opportunities to see this art form, the people that are really interested will of course go see it,” Cain wrote in a follow-up email. “Ultimately we are here to provide options — to provide choice — and to hopefully continue to grow the art form.”

Next spring, Fresco is planning an event called Dueling Divas, probably the first opera event in Madison history to cite rapper Eminem’s 2002 movie “8 Mile” as direct inspiration. A “diva-off” with a $250 purse, Dueling Divas is designed to resemble a boxing match, with competitors taking the stage accompanied by pump-you-up music and video projections.

Six divas (and “divos”) are set to compete in the Overture Playhouse on March 5 in categories like “most brilliant high note,” “biggest pipes,” “best coloratura passage” and “fastest patter.” The judging panel will be the audience, which will vote with cheers logged on a decibel meter.

A follow-up concert presented around Halloween 2010 could be an evening of death arias called “Ding-Dong! The Diva’s Dead.”

Melanie Cain is a voice teacher at A Step Above Dance and Music Academy and is a lyric soprano; she has a doctorate from the UW-Madison in vocal performance and minored in opera production.

Cain had been auditioning for operas since she graduated in 2007, but soon discovered being on the road wasn’t for her.

“It’s not necessarily that I’m doing this because I didn’t get hired,” she said. “I was trying to think of ways I could use my talents and still be teaching in the studio. Being a full-time opera singer, you can’t do that.”

According to their blog, fresco, with Fresco Opera Theatre the Cains want to “change the game without altering the integrity of the music.”

“Is it a risk? YES, and it’s one we’ll gladly take,” they wrote.


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