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Margo Kline: UCSB Opera Theatre Delivers Charming ‘Così’

The cast and orchestra were a fine fit in performing the modern-dress version

Wolfgang Mozart’s evergreen Così Fan Tutte (“All Women Are Like That”) was the ideal spring offering of the UCSB Opera Theatre last weekend.

In three performances at Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall on campus, the modern-dress, English-language version featured a fine double cast and a redoubtable live orchestra, under the baton of Richard Rintoul.

The Sunday matinee included Paul Sahue as a suave Don Alfonso; Adam Phillips and Daniel Tuutau as the swains Ferrando and Guglielmo, respectively; and the exquisite voices of Annie Thompson as Fiordiligi and Helena von Rueden as Dorabella.

The libretto was written by Lorenzo da Ponte and is more soufflé than sachertorte. The two young men are sure their young ladies are faithful; Alfonso, the cad, is set upon proving the girls are nothing of the kind, and the high jinks that follow are merry. Each swain woos the lady belonging to the other, and the girls are responsive indeed.

In addition to the aforementioned fine performances, Alissa Favero sang the role of the maid Despina, Alfonso’s henchwoman in the scheme. She was fierce and funny and in glorious voice, including a turn as a shifty “lawyer” who persuades the girls to sign marriage contracts — with the wrong fiancés. Favero will receive her master’s degree in music at the university in June.

Thompson and von Rueden are also in the master’s program, and the latter has the distinction of serving as co-conductor of the UCSB Men’s and Women’s Choruses, as well as choral director of the Santa Barbara First Congregational Church. Thompson will be in Italy this summer, singing with The Professional Advantage opera program.

Besides the glorious music, this Così rang a clever change on the traditional opera goings-on. Phillips and Tuutau, in order to disguise their aristocratic sides while wooing the girls, wore baggy shorts and Hawaiian shirts and presented themselves as pool cleaners. This lowly estate didn’t harm their chances with the two young women, and the whole thing was played out on a stage set with modern furniture and flooded with glorious California sunlight.

The two young men study with Benjamin Brecher in UCSB’s master’s program and have appeared in a number of local venues. Phillips was the splendid soloist in the recent Beatles show “Love, Love, Love.” Tuutau starred in William Kraft’s Red Azalea, among other recent roles.

The stage director was Simon Williams, the music director was Benjamin Brecher, and Mark Somerfield created the scenery and lighting design. The alternate cast on Saturday included Andrew Padgett as Don Alfonso, Rebecca Monroe as Fiordiligi, Tamora Pellica as Dorabella and Meghan Joyce as Despina. Members of the chorus, wittily clad in chinos and striped polo shirts, were Kristen Tansey, Claire Danielson, Erica Nagashima, Jenna Rydz, Hannah Downie, Ericka Janian, Angky Budiardjono and Matt Broatch.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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