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Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Time-Bending Superhero

Classical Preview

Oct. 26, 2010
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The Florentine Opera is not the only Milwaukee opera company to present a world premiere this year. With equal courage, the Milwaukee Opera Theatre (MOT) has undertaken the task of developing an original operetta by local composer and writer Jason Powell. A staged concert reading of his Fortuna the Time Bender vs. The Schoolgirls of Doom! will be presented Oct. 28-30 at the Sunset Playhouse Studio Theatre. Audiences will be invited to give feedback after each performance to assist in developing a complete production next season.

Powell is the author, composer and lyricist of the musical Invader? I Hardly Know Her!, which had a well-received premiere a year ago at the Alchemist Theatre and was revived this summer at the New York International Fringe Festival. Jill Anna Ponasik, artistic director of MOT, was in the cast. Impressed by Powell’s songwriting, she suggested he consider composing an opera. Powell loves comic books and writes a blog on the subject. In biweekly meetings with Ponasik over eight months, Fortuna was born: a super-heroine who can slow or speed time—a superpower that can be expressed musically. Her downfall—her kryptonite—is a particular musical chord that requires four voices to complete. When her nemesis, the evil English Headmaster, arrives in Anyville with his three Schoolgirls of Doom, the battle is on.

The work is almost entirely sung. Gilbert and Sullivan are referenced in the music for the Headmaster and his three little maids from school. The characters also include Fortuna’s "schlumpy" and ineffective sidekick, Joe, and his non-superpowered girlfriend, Liz. The classically trained cast includes the great Diane Lane as the Narrator, Julia Black as Fortuna, Jon Stewart as Joe, Melissa Kelly Cardamone as Liz, Nathan Wesselowski as Headmaster, and Rana Roman, Lisa Buchmeier and Katy Johnson as the mean schoolgirls.

Last season MOT created “26,” an original dance-theater framework for a group of canonical Italian arias. The success of that risky adventure encouraged the company to undertake its first commissioned work.

“I’m experimenting with ways that MOT can be of even more value to the artists here,” Ponasik says. “To foster writers and to allow singers to be part of the creative process, not just sing the result. Royalties and fees we would otherwise pay to outsiders can be paid to local artists to provide that little bit of income that might keep them here. In little steps, we’re exploring big issues.”


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