UCSC Spring Opera: Fidelity, love…and the Tour de France

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Nicole Paiement and Brian Staufenbiel (Photo by Jim MacKenzie)
Each spring, the UCSC Music Department offers up a major opera production--the only fully staged, live opera presentation in Santa Cruz County.

This year it will present Così fan tutte, a story of friendship, love and jealously, featuring the music of Mozart and the comic libretto of Lorenzo da Ponte.

Performances take place at the UCSC Music Center Recital Hall from May 30 to June 2.

The production is directed by Brian Staufenbiel co-head of UCSC’s Opera Program.

Staufenbiel is well known for his creativity in setting the operas he directs--this production is set in the 1920s during the Tour De France cycling competition.

“When taking on a new opera, the first thing you have to decide is how to set it,” he  notes. You have to be very cautious if you want to set it in a different place.”

“A story like Così fan tutte—it’s basically a story so people can have a laugh, a comedy that lends itself to be set in a variety of places. I’ve always been fascinated with the Tour de France and I love the era of the 20s. So I thought of setting the story in France where two couples come to observe the end of the race.”

“Alfonso wagers if the men go away in disguise, they could test the fidelity of their spouses. They come back as the Albanian bicycle team,” adds Staufenbiel.

By making the set a village scene in France, complete with a balcony and traditional French café, he says it gives the performers the freedom to almost tell a different story.

“The essence and structure of the story itself is testing the fidelity of the women,” Staufenbiel explains. “But by superimposing this place upon it—the Tour de France—it deepens the story. It allows you to create more subtext.”

Staufenbiel notes that live opera has been changing over the years, becoming more adventurous, and shedding its often maligned reputation of a genre that has performers who “can’t act” and who sing “very loud.”

“There’s more adventure happening onstage, better acting, more production values,” he says. “It’s like experiencing a play—the audiences are now being pulled into a narrative and it allows them to get lost in a story,” he adds.

Staufenbiel works closely with music professor Nicole Paiement on the annual opera performance. They mentor UCSC undergraduate students throughout the year to prepare the musicians and singers for the event.

As musical director and conductor, Paiement will lead the UCSC Orchestra for this year’s production, an ensemble that includes the members of the UCSC Resident String Ensemble, a quartet of top music students and scholarship winners.

The costume design is by UCSC Theater Arts alumna Christina Dinkel; wig and make-up design by Jeanna Parham (San Francisco Opera, Opera San Jose, ACT); and the scenery is designed and constructed by Dave Dunning and Legend Theatrical.

Così fan tutte will be performed in Italian with English supertitles.

Tickets are available at santacruztickets.com, the UCSC Ticket Office (831-459-2159) or Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium box office (831-420-5260). More information is available at the UCSC Arts Division web site.