Saturday, June 25 , 2016, 5:56 am | Fair 53º

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Opera Santa Barbara’s Annual Benefit Gala ‘An Affair to Remember’

Elegant evening event highlights the company's upcoming productions of Falstaff and The Consul

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

Celebrating its 20th year, Opera Santa Barbara board chairwoman Joan Rutkowski welcomed more than 100 guests on Valentine's Day to the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara for an elegant annual fundraiser, "An Affair to Remember," previewing an exciting upcoming production, Falstaff.

“Opera Santa Barbara has become this incredible company, and soon we will be in the audience at the wonderful Granada Theatre for our production of Falstaff,” Rutkowski said. “If you really think about it, this is an incredible occurrence to have happen in just 20 short years, and here we are tonight celebrating, and we want to thank a group of very special people who help support the arts in Santa Barbara.”

Strong community support of the opera and arts is fundamental to the inspiration of the organization.

“I think that as the community has grown, what we have really seen is that, yes, it’s the opera, but it’s really the art community in Santa Barbara that matters to all of us,” Opera Santa Barbara General Director Steven Sharpe said. “And we are all here working together to strengthen and become the most prominent arts community that we can.”

The company’s premiere of Falstaff, Giuseppe Verdi’s comedy, follows a character featured in William Shakespeare's Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and his attempts to woo two married women and improve both his financial and romantic situations.

Baritone Todd Thomas, who played Scarpia in the 2006 production of Tosca, takes the lead role of Falstaff and is joined by soprano Melody Moore as Alice Ford and mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook as Dame Quickly. Jose Maria Condemi stages the production with conductor Francesco Milioto. The Granada Theatre will again be the stage for this eagerly anticipated production of Falstaff on March 7 and March 9.

“And also we are actually offering a much more challenging piece this year, the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera The Consul by Gian-Carlo Menotti, directed by Ensemble Theatre's Jonathan Fox,” Sharpe said. “We are really using this as an opportunity to engage new audiences into the art form.”

Closing the season on April 25 and 27, this suspenseful thriller is described as “Hitchcock set to music,” in which a mother grapples to save her husband and get freedom for her family in a nameless police state.

Sharpe’s enthusiasm about The Consul premiere exemplifies the modern and controversial direction the company continues to embody in the name of art.

“It’s a much more engaging, prevalent piece in terms of our current culture, the whole immigration issue," he said. "We are really trying to not just promote the top 10 operas in the repertoire, but we are starting to mix things up a little bit, and it’s exciting and brings in new audiences and new dialogue into the art form.”

Fox will direct with soprano Alexandra LoBianco in the lead as Magda Sorel and her persecuted husband played by baritone Joshua Jeremiah. This performance will be performed in English and also held at the Granada.

The mission of Opera Santa Barbara is to add cultural enrichment by presenting high-quality performances and community programs that showcase the beauty of opera. Some of the popular efforts by Opera Santa Barbara to embrace the community include programs for children and youth.

The Opera Lab is a highly interactive education outreach program designed by Condemi and made possible by the generous support of corporate and individual donations. The program teaches the building blocks of the art form with professional cast members.

Another of the important programs run by Opera Santa Barbara is the Studio Artist Program, which provides valuable training to up-and-coming opera singers with top industry directors, conductors, coaches in master classes, individual coaching and public performances.

Opera Santa Barbara continues its run of fully staged productions and programs for families of any age.

Recently, Opera Santa Barbara launched a new initiative to make opera more accessible to a wider audience with a grant from the James Irvine Foundation, funding a new community engagement manager position, filled by soprano Kristen Reed. Partnerships in the local community include MichaelKate Interiors & Art Gallery, “Demystifying Opera” this Friday, Feb. 21; Santa Barbara Art Foundry & Gallery, “Falstaff Frill & Folly” next Tuesday, Feb. 25, Granada Books, “Opera Book Club,” on March 3; and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, “Pop Up Opera at the Museum of Art” on March 6.

Opera Santa Barbara wishes to welcome all interested community members with single tickets starting at just $28 and season tickets starting at $77 for the remaining two 20th anniversary season operas. For more information on tickets, call Opera Santa Barbara at 805.898.3890, call the Granada at 805.899.2222 or click here to order online.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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