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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s ‘26’

Creating a ‘Great Italian Songbook’

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Opera singers train on a standard set of 26 arias composed for 26 separate Italian operas in all the styles that have arisen since the form was invented in the Renaissance. Milwaukee Opera Theatre, with a new vision and energy, will present an original work by a trio of Milwaukee artists who have placed the songs into a single conceptual framework, in effect using them as the score for the postmodern music-dance-theater fantasy titled 26.

Jill Anna Ponasik (singer-actor), Nathan Wesselowski (composer-singer) and Kelly Anderson (choreographer-dancer) spent a full year deconstructing and reconstructing this “Great Italian Songbook” into a tangled tale of love and despair for the characters they play in the show. Wesselowski refashioned some solo arias into duets and group pieces, and composed bridge music.

Anderson will dance and also sing a bit; singers Ponasik and Wesselowski will also dance; and their brilliant accompanist Jack Forbes Wilson will add his good voice to the mix. The songs will be sung in Italian, but salient phrases will be projected in English in the manner of silent film titles to advance the plot.

Ponasik is the company’s new, young artistic director. After nearly closing from exhaustion last year, this nomadic “people’s opera” has had a vibrant season under her leadership. She hosts free monthly Voice Labs in her home, where anyone can experiment in music performance and get feedback over wine and food from the group in attendance. She hopes it will inspire new work. She’s commissioned a “superhero operetta” about a woman who can slow time from composer-writer Jason Powell for next Halloween. It all deserves support.

26 will have its premiere at Danceworks Studio Theatre (1661 N. Water St.) at 7:30 p.m. May 14-16, with an additional 3 p.m. matinee on May 16.

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