The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Fresco Opera Theatre turns Handel’s “Rinaldo” into science fiction art and a “Star Wars” takeoff this weekend. | June 1, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at Fresco Opera Theatre sent The Ear the following press release about its performances this coming weekend:

Fresco Opera Theatre had two goals: To perform the works of George Frideric Handel; and to stage a science fiction adventure in the Overture Center Playhouse.

In reading through Handel’s “Rinaldo,” we quickly discovered the similar themes between it and that of the movie “Star Wars.”

Fresco Rinaldo light sabres

In place of the recitatives, we have included original dialogue. The result is an exciting story accompanied by exceptional early music, which is family-friendly. This is a great opportunity to introduce young people to the early music of Handel (below). (You can hear a famous and gorgeous aria at bottom in a popular YouTube video with 1.5 million hits.)

handel big 3

There will also be pre-show talks at 7 p.m. at the Friday and Saturday night performances featuring Handel Aria Competition founder Dean Schroeder.

Our promotional spot is as follows:

“An opera written long ago … performed in a galaxy far, far away…

“It is a period of civil war. The Empire is close to defeat and has agreed to a truce with the Legion, led by Commander Goffredo and his faithful soldier Rinaldo. However, the evil Lord Argante and Queen Armida, using the dark side of the force, have planned to use Princess Almirena as bait to destroy the Legion and rule the galaxy.

“Fresco Opera Theatre will present Handel’s “Rinaldo” transformed into a science fiction adventure. The force is strong with Fresco in its mission to present opera in fresh exciting ways.

Fresco Rinaldo singers

“Will Rinaldo use his powers of the force to overcome the Empire and restore order and freedom to the galaxy or will the dark side prevail?

“Join Fresco Opera as they bring you through this operatic intergalactic journey.

Fresco Rinaldo musicians 2

The place is The Playhouse in the Overture Center.

Running time is approximately two hours.

Performances are Friday, June 5, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, June 6, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 7, at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $30.

Group, senior and student discounts are available. Visit:

For more information, visit:

The production is funded in part by the Pleasant Rowland Great Performance Fund for Theater, a component fund of the Madison Community Foundation.



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  3. Excellent article. I will be facing a few of these issues as well..

    Comment by — June 8, 2015 @ 3:25 am

  4. As an opera-goer from age 17 to 77, and from Hawaii to Romania, I love Fresco Opera’s productions and am looking forward to their take on Rinaldo. I’ve seen plenty of Handel at Lyric-Chicago and San Francisco including a famous Rinaldo with Horne and Ramey. I know Fresco’s singers and look forward to their work (for me the singing is the MAIN THING); I’m confident that the staging will have fun ideas, and I trust Fresco’s instincts on cuts (complete Handel can be tiresome IMO). It’s a privilege to have this work available here, and I have no interest in the carping expressed above: please, if you don’t want to enjoy the Fresco take on Handel, JUST DO NOT GO.
    No need, Jeff, to engage with this tiresome pretender.

    Comment by Dan Shea — June 3, 2015 @ 3:15 am

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    Comment by tekken 6 pc emulator — June 2, 2015 @ 9:16 am

  6. Rather than get into name calling with you (name calling is usually a clear indicator that the person engaged in it has lost the argument), let’s stick to some issues. You have insisted all along that despite the “changes” you are making to “Rinaldo”, you still will stay consistent with the music: “At times we are ridiculous, and we have a lot of fun. But not at the expense of the music.” Right? Those are your words, of course.

    Please explain, then, how it is that your estimated running time for your upcoming performance is about 2 hours when two performances of Handel’s “Rinaldo” readily available at YouTube, one led by Christopher Hogwood (generally regarded as a stickler for staying true to the music as written) and another a highly regarded Glyndebourne performance in 2012, both exceed 2 hours and 47 minutes?

    Is it possible to treat Handel’s music with consideration, to claim that you have fun “but not at the expense of the music” and still cut something like one-third of his music? Or, is that just having more “fun”?

    An article over at about the upcoming production also indicates major changes to the music with counter tenor spots being sung by mezzos and much of the dialogue being in English (“Rinaldo” was the first opera in London sung entirely in Italian).

    These are not minor changes.

    Comment by fflambeau — June 2, 2015 @ 2:07 am

    • I’m still trying to figure out how you found out about our “Jerry Lewis” project. That was supposed to be top secret.

      Jeff Turk
      Phone (608) 515-4825

      Comment by Jeff Turk — June 2, 2015 @ 6:53 am

      • Nice but you avoided entirely answering the questions I put to you about staying true to the music.

        Comment by fflambeau — June 2, 2015 @ 8:29 pm

      • We took out the recitatives and replaced them with dialogue. In English. And Handel approves. We booked his ghost for the pre-show talk. I ain’t gonna lie. This will be nothing like your Chris Hogwood recording. I have to say, you are pretty concerned about our presentation of this “third rate opera” (your words, sir). This is a fun show, and a great opportunity to enjoy a couple hours of some of Handel’s best music. In all seriousness, we are close to the Handel Aria Competion folks, and have their blessing. That is certainly good enough for us.

        My name is Jeff Turk (I didn’t catch yours) – and I am available, even at 2:30 am at 608-515-4825.

        Comment by Jeff Turk — June 2, 2015 @ 8:59 pm

  7. I’ll decline the offer to discuss “the merit” of what you do with you in a phone call.

    As I said in my original post, I think what you are doing is destructive to music and the arts and what you are doing is solely an attempt to make money, no matter how it is done and what the disservice to music and the community is. The fact that you are presenting your warped ideas as a supposed way to entice children to classical music is especially repulsive.

    Comment by fflambeau — June 1, 2015 @ 8:11 pm

    • I think you are just trying to pimp me. Strong words, from someone who has not seen a performance of ours and declines to discuss with me. We have fun, often at the expense of popular culture and stereotypes of traditional classical music. I’ll bite on this to ensure the other readers understand that in order to break through to a bigger audience, we use popular culture devices to engage the audience. However, we remain faithful to the music.

      If you don’t want to call, please email me at

      Thanks – Jeff

      Comment by Jeff Turk — June 1, 2015 @ 8:54 pm

      • You seem to be pretty good at pimping so you don’t need my help there.

        What’s next “in order to break through to a bigger audience”? Setting Aida to a Jerry Lewis movie?

        You do not seem to understand that settings and period performances are essential parts of the opera and trifling with them, especially for foolish reasons as you have proposed, is not really advancing much of anything. Note too that your urgency in involving youth in culture has been dropped in your latest.

        Call it what you will but what you really are doing is trying to market and promote a bastardization for money.

        Comment by fflambeau — June 1, 2015 @ 10:32 pm

      • You sound pretty smart, but I’ll state the obvious anyway. We don’t take ourselves as seriously as you take yourself. I realize I may be talking to a true classical music expert – and if you actually heard one of our performances, you would realize how wrong your statements about Fresco are.

        Rather than sully Jake’s column with this back and forth, I must end by saying, you sir, are a cootie head.

        Jeff Turk (608) 515-4825.

        Comment by Jeff Turk — June 1, 2015 @ 11:05 pm

  8. @fflambeau don’t think too hard about it. This is an opportunity for an audience to experience Handel who more than likely would have never experienced Handel. The concerns you raise are nothing new for us. It comes with the territory (new can be scary). I am sure you had problems with the way Leonard Bernstein did some things, or perhaps the way Glenn Gould played piano, but at the end of the day it was their interpretation and you could take it or leave it. At Fresco, we firmly believe that Handel would have had no problem with how we are presenting Rinaldo. And we know we will get a lot of people to experience his music who would have never dreamt about going to “the opera.”

    At times we are ridiculous, and we have a lot of fun. But not at the expense of the music. Our goal is to present the music in more contemporary ways, ie. settings. We are cultivating a new audience for classical music, in an age where orchestras and opera companies are going out of business at an alarming rate. Fresco believes this is a work worthy of performance, no matter what traditionalists think. And obviously it does a great job of representing Handel’s music, given it is a compilation of many of his other works. If you get the chance, you should come hear for yourself. Or you can stay at home, pour yourself a drink and listen to the recommendation of Sir Denis Forman.


    Jeff Turk
    President, Board of Directors
    Fresco Opera Theatre

    Comment by Jeff Turk — June 1, 2015 @ 11:02 am

    • ” At Fresco, we firmly believe that Handel would have had no problem with how we are presenting Rinaldo.” Nonsense; do you hold seances so that you can tell what the long-dead Handel is feeling? Comparing your foolish actions with the artistry of Leonard Bernstein and Glenn Gould shows how ridiculous you really are.

      “Our goal is to present the music in more contemporary ways, ie. settings. We are cultivating a new audience for classical music, in an age where orchestras and opera companies are going out of business at an alarming rate.”
      Look at your own history. How are you doing? Given the paucity of presentations “Fresco” has had, I’d say pretty poorly.

      And you’re overusing the “we’re doing this to bring young people to classical music.” What you are offering is not classical music, it’s shlock.

      This is from your own web site: “Just when you thought it was safe to go to the opera.
      Dead divas, zombies, demonic possession,
      blood curdling screams with lots of comic relief.
      Fresco Opera Theatre is back
      with an evening of opera’s death scenes
      reworked to settings inspired by
      cinema’s most famous horror movies
      such as Frankenstein and The Exorcist.”

      Sorry, you are confusing opera with an Ed Wood movie but you still can win a Golden Turkey Award.

      Comment by fflambeau — June 1, 2015 @ 7:29 pm

      • Have you actually heard one of our performances? We aren’t your cup of tea. And that’s fine. I don’t want to get in a war of words on this forum. But please feel free to call me at 608-515-4825 if you care to discuss the merit of what we do. And that goes for anyone else that may have any questions.


        Comment by Jeff Turk — June 1, 2015 @ 7:50 pm

  9. I’m sure the promoters are attempting something worthwhile but why change the setting and the story? What’s wrong with using the original story which concentrates on the First Crusade (and perhaps updating that to modern circumstances in the Middle East)? Why the need to pander to the public and work in the Star Wars theme. And if you are going to do an opera, why not do a great one or one that has great music that has been neglected? Almost all critics agree that this work has much borrowed music and that there is not much there. As an indicator, “Rinaldo” is not even considered in Sir Denis Forman’s “A Night at the Opera.” If you want to bring the opera to children, why not bring them a great opera, not a third rate one?

    (Note that this opera was not staged for 200 years after 1731, likely for good reasons).

    This production sounds as outrageous as the Zurich Opera production of Rinaldo in 2008 when the action took place in a 21st-century airport lounge and conference center, with Rinaldo dressed in a double-breasted navy blazer and needing a drink. It was described as “Characters go up and down on-stage escalators, and the set spins to show various areas of the lounge and terminal. There is a dissection of a small, white furry animal, a large snake, some allusions to Bond girls and character transformations. The Christians pull guns on the Muslims at a signing ceremony”. This production did not do well, needless to say.

    Is Handel really Handel when he’s put to the service of Star Wars?

    Might I also suggest that the two goals of the Fresco Opera Theatre sound ridiculously at odds? Having read about this group and their plans makes me think I need a drink.

    Comment by fflambeau — June 1, 2015 @ 12:46 am

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