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BWW Reviews: RINALDO - The Opera That a True Nerd Can Handel

A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away...a man named George Fredric Handel crafted an opera entitled Rinaldo.

A few hundred years later, an opera company that prides itself in bringing a fresh perspective to the art form added their own charms to the libretto. Under the guise of the Star Wars franchise, Fresco Opera Theater, under the direction of Melanie Cain, has created a nerd haven in The Overture's cozy Playhouse Theater entitled Rinaldo and the Galactic Crusades.

Handel's original plot follows Goffredo as he pushes into Jerusalem with his crusade and his noble knight

Gillian Cotter as Rinaldo (left) and Rachel Edie Warrick
as Almirena (right).
Photo Credit: Fresco Opera Theater

Rinaldo by his side. That's not much of a far cry from a George Lucas interpretation - with war following galactic power rather than religion. Donning cloaks, lightsabers, and the occasional Wookie bartender, Rinaldo and the rebels must battle to preserve their righteousness from the imperial army.

Starring as the daring Rinaldo is the impeccable Gillian Cotter. Embodying every raw emotion, while still giving room for the comedy of the pseudo parody, Cotter's crisp voice gives Handel's music the beauty it deserves. Though the show is a nod to Lucas' classic franchise, preserving the original opera is essential to keeping the art form thriving. While on the villainous side is Caitlin Cisler as the sensational Armida. Her remarkable soprano accompanied by her movements fit the dastardly persona to a tee. Cisler's electricity radiated through the space while she played each moment to its fullest.

The cast as a whole has undeniable vocal talents. Each provided nuance to their characters that brought the fan fiction-esque love child of Handel and Lucas to fruition. Chadley Ballantyne's voice in particular is to be noted - as the Darth Vader likened Argante. His cavernous bass could give James Earl Jones a run for his money. Although his performance could have varied more, it tended to linger on neutrality a little too often, even when the situation around him was changing. Although Cisler brought out some variety in the performance in act II.

Cotter (left) and Cisler as Armida (right).
Photo Credit: Fresco Opera Theater

What distracted from the purpose of the show, however, was the aimless stage direction. Part of the beauty of opera is the singer's ability to own each note to its fullest potential. It isn't merely singing - it is performance through song. A brilliant operatic performer can tell an entire love story in six measures through vocal tone and facial expression. This is lost when a performer is set to walk about the stage without any intention. Several times it seemed as though the singers were simply finding a mark instead of working through whatever emotion they were meant to evoke within themselves. Particularly when characters would take the time to ascend to the upper balcony without any real reason, it felt more that the show was trying to fill time than tell a story.

Fresco Opera Theater does something truly fascinating. In a time when opera is difficult for audiences to open their hearts to, Fresco tries to make it accessible. They create opera for people who wouldn't necessarily ever attend a live performance with subtitles and make it an encouraging experience. I would recommend this company to anyone who has ever uttered the words "I'm not a fan of opera" to attend a future performance. See if that mentality is still true after the final curtain.

Rinaldo may have closed yesterday afternoon, but a future production appears to already be on the horizon for Fresco. When it opens, go to it you must.

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From This Author Amanda Finn

Amanda lives in Madison, WI and joined BWW in the spring of 2014. She has relished every moment spent in a theatre since then. She (read more...)