Operatic super power returns to Milwaukee Opera Theatre

Matthew Reddin, Contributing writer

There’s only one superhero-slash-opera singer out there, and her origin story is set in Milwaukee. 

And so is her triumphant return, as Milwaukee Opera Theatre revives its acclaimed operetta Fortuna the Time Bender vs. The Schoolgirls of Doom, an original work that artistic director Jill Anna Ponasik commissioned Jason Powell to write in 2009. The two crossed paths in an Alchemist Theatre production of Powell’s sci-fi comedy Invader? I Hardly Know Her! Ponasik performed in the production, and the two hit it off so well that she asked him to write MOT’s first full-length production.

Powell says the two threw around different ideas, but his interest in comics eventually determined the choice. At the time, Powell was not only a fan of comics but also a blogger on the subject.

Since Powell’s knowledge of opera was limited to Gilbert and Sullivan, he says half-jokingly, Fortuna is laced with lyrical and melodic allusions to their work. A very successful staged reading led to a 2012 production at the Alchemist that slowly built into a series of sell-out performances. The production was so well received, in fact, that the theater added a Sunday night show that sold out within four hours of its announcement.

The story of Fortuna unfolds in Anyville, a city recently cleansed of all crime thanks to the superhero Fortuna (Samantha Sostrich). Her special super-hero power is her ability to manipulate time.

But, alas, her efforts are torn asunder by the sudden appearance of a very British supervillain (Nathan Wesselowski) and his three schoolgirl assistants (Katy Johnson, Lisa Buchmeier and Rana Roman). She must draft a local citizen, Joe (Jonathan Stewart), to be her sidekick, despite his lack of superpowers.

Ponasik and Powell say they’ve been fortunate to have their entire cast (including Melissa Kelly Cardamone as Joe’s girlfriend Elizabeth and Diane Lane as Narrator) return for the Fortuna revival. They’ve enjoyed the opportunity to polish a few of the original production’s rougher scenes. Ponasik says she brought Christopher Elst back to improve some of the fight scenes, for example. And cast members are trying out new ways to finesse their performances, she adds.

The May performances at Alchemist Theatre are not the first in which the cast has reunited to recreate the magic. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, MOT brought the cast together last year to produce a complete studio recording of Fortuna. The album has served as something of a promotion for the upcoming Fortuna revival, according to Ponasik.

Ponasik is counting on the people who’ve told her how much they want to see Fortuna return or how much they regret missing it the first time to help make the revival a success. The show, she adds, has wide appeal, drawing in opera buffs, comic lovers and average Joes and Joannes.

“I haven’t hardly met anyone who didn’t like it,” she says. 

Universal likability is a superpower that no performance company should turn down.