- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

WAUNAKEE, Wis. (AP) - Hansel traded glances with Gretel in a dark forest, a gingerbread house beckoning behind them.

Saturday’s scene was straight from the classic opera and fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel.”

But the setting for this opera was the garage of a Waunakee home. The garage door was the curtain, and the audience watched from lawn chairs strewn across the driveway.

It was the first of four garage opera performances sponsored this month by Madison’s Fresco Opera Theatre. Each performance uses the garage of a Madison-area home as its stage.

Fresco supporters said the shows advance the theatre’s mission of introducing opera to new audiences by putting a fresh, accessible twist on an old - some would say stuffy - art form.

Fresco executive director Frank Cain told the Wisconsin State Journal (https://bit.ly/1JMP6kp ) he’s not aware of anyone else who has done garage opera. The idea, he said, was a riff on the concept of garage bands.

“Wouldn’t it be fun to have, like, garage bands - but this is for opera,” explained Ariela Haro Von Mogel, a Fresco board member.

Garage opera struck Cain and other Fresco supporters as a means to overcome some hurdles they say deter people from opera. Those include images of opera as a highbrow, pricey art form that’s hard to follow because it’s performed in another language.

The barriers are economic as well as cultural. Opera originated as a European art form, and people of non-European descent often don’t have a point of entry to it, Haro Von Mogel said.

As opera lovers, Frank Cain and his wife, Fresco artistic director Melanie Cain, wanted to change that.

For “Hansel and Gretel,” they chose the English-language version of the opera and shortened its running time to less than an hour. Small, lightweight set pieces were built for the shows to fit the garages-as-stages.

The lack of a flashy venue helped reduce production costs. Attendees of Saturday’s performance were asked only to pay what they could.

The hosts of Saturday’s performance, Fred and Colleen Schmidt, were asked to stage an opera performance in their three-car garage.

Colleen Schmidt acknowledged that saying “yes” took a leap of faith. But she said she was confident the Cains were up to the task, because Colleen and Fred’s daughter, Deana, is a music student of Melanie Cain’s.

Melanie Cain, speaking after the performance, said the garage setting created challenges not faced by your typical opera crew. Set pieces had to be weighted down to hold steady in Saturday’s breezy conditions. And shortly before the start, a neighbor mowing lawn was asked to please stop for the duration of the show.

But the debut performance, most attendees agreed, was a success.

One of the families on hand was David and Janessa Hartjes and their 4-year-old son, Kaiden. They learned about the performance from their friends, the Schmidts, and drove an hour from Watertown to attend.

The family were first-time opera-goers, just the sort that Fresco hopes to entice.

David Hartjes said the family are fans of the arts in general. But he acknowledged that opera can be intimidating to those who aren’t familiar with it.

Still, after Saturday’s performance, opera seemed to have won at least three more fans.

“We’re going to tell everyone about it,” Hartjes said.


Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, https://www.madison.com/wsj

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