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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 11.0° F  Fair
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Fresco Opera Theatre's The Good, the Bad and the Divas is a Western-style opera showdown
Brianna Sura as Deputy Sam in <i>The Good, the Bad and the Divas</i>.
Brianna Sura as Deputy Sam in The Good, the Bad and the Divas.
Credit:Max Wendt

Fresco Opera Theatre riddles the Overture Center with arias during its latest original production, The Good, the Bad and the Divas, playing now through Sunday, Sept. 9. Shootouts are part of this Western tale, but the bullets that reach your heart aren't discharged from a gun. They come from Mozart, Donizetti and other composers from the opera canon.

The show opens with Kid Clementine (Rachel Holmes) landing in jail after winning a duel against her soon-to-be ex. This may sound like bleak scene, but it's more of a Looney Tunes-style comedy than a gritty drama a la Sergio Leone. Holmes dabs crocodile tears with her fallen man's kerchief, drawing laughs from the crowd, then briefly escapes her new confines. Strangely enough, her performance of "Barbaro, oh Dio!" -- a selection from Mozart's Il Rè Pastore -- doesn't wake the sleeping sheriff. I was impressed that the cast could belt out their notes while struggling through rubber jail bars and interacting with the audience.

Clementine's girl gang then tries to free her. Though Cactus Cate (the excellent Kassy Coleman) leads the gang, Caitlin Cisler steals much of the show as wildcard Bonny Jo Loco. Clad in purple chaps, she apes Michael Jackson during some group choreography and acts out 'Tornami a vagheggiar" from Handel's Alcina using gold bars as dolls. Cisler's antics feel like a fresh take on the Puck-pixie archetype rather than the general 'prickly woman scorned' role the other members of the gang assume. The identity of German-born gangster Hilda Brune (Allison Hull) owes more to the production's use of "Jägerin, schlau im Sinn" -- a number from Flowtow's Martha -- than a unique personality.

If you've only heard these songs in movies, commercials and TV shows, you may be surprised how many of them lament men's stupidity. An angry line from Mozart's Don Giovanni -- "I will destroy him; I will rip his heart out!" establishes this theme early on. The gang, our narrator claims, is bent on "getting revenge on men, and they will stop at nothing to destroy them." Perhaps this sentiment is warranted: The strength of the ladies' voices upstages much of the men's singing. Even the chorus girls out-diva the male leads. Looming bounty hunter Jonathan Ten Brink sports a powerful voice, but he doesn't quite mesh with Holmes and Brianne Sura during 'In uomini, in soldai" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.

Fresco aims to make opera accessible and fun, and the audience Friday night certainly seemed entertained. An unexpected line-dancing sequence, complete with a caller, was a big hit at the end of the night. The production's broad comic tone resonated more than a Spaghetti Western's pulpy noir vibe might in this setting. The big showdown is played for laughs as well, even though many characters die in a slo-mo shootout. The arias stay serious, though, with the sheriff and Bella Rose expressing the pain of love through La Boheme as they mosey toward the sunset. The only thing missing was sarsaparilla, which I hoped to find at the concession stand.

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