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Saturday, May 8, 2021

A change of tune

The Western Washington University Opera Studio performs “Cosi Fan Tutte”, or “The School for Lovers,” at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday, April 9. // Photo by Matthew Pearson
The Western Washington University Opera Studio performs “Cosi Fan Tutte”, or “The School for Lovers,” at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday, April 9. // Photo by Matthew Pearson

Nestled in the basement of the Performing Arts Center, blissful and longing melodies float down the hall as voices are warmed and coaxed into hitting higher notes.

Long skirts swish as they sweep across the floor and the patter of feet scurry to reach their positions in time.

Laughter between close friends, can be heard just above the keys of a piano whose sound drifts and disappears into the dim corners of the room.

The Western Opera has been actively rehearsing in the PAC for their opening night of Mozart’s opera “Così fan tutte; of the School of Lovers,” a performance they’ve been working on since January.

“Così fan tutte; of the School of Lovers” follows two brothers who pretend to leave for war, only to return disguised and attempt to woo the other’s fiance. The entire script is in Italian, making it challenging to memorize.

The language barrier was not unmanageable for junior Liana Merril, music major.

In addition to her role as Despina, the persuasive and feisty maid of the two female finances, Merrill takes on the job of assistant costume designer, she said.

Merrill said she was fortunate enough to study abroad in Naples, Italy last year where she learned some Italian.

Merrill wished she had learned more to help ease her transition into this opera, which is her first in Italian, she said.

For audience members who do not speak Italian, the opera will be translated into English and projected behind the set throughout the performance.

Sophomore Sam Brown, music education major, plays Don Alfonso, the leading antagonist who suggests the brothers disguise themselves and attempt to seduce each other’s fiancees. 

His character holds the whole plot together, Brown said.

For Brown, who has been acting since age 13, the “bad guy” is his usual role, but the depth each antagonist character has makes for a more interesting experience playing a villain.

“It’s always the most fun to be the character that gets everyone’s gears going,” Brown said. “[There’s] just something so satisfying about it; there’s so much complexity to bring out.”

The weekend before tech week, Brown came down with one of the worst colds he has ever had, which has prohibited him from singing this week, Brown said.

“Anyone who has been sick on the week that they perform for a show can tell you that it is extremely stressful,” Brown said. 

Another cast member stepped in to sing Brown’s part while he battled his illness, something Brown is very appreciative of, he said.

Through hell and high water, the show must go on, and Brown assured that he is getting better and will be ready for opening night.

Bang for their buck

Illness isn’t the only pressure acting on this stage; budgetary restrictions have forced the cast to utilize every resource available.

The crew saves money by shopping smart said junior Dylan Cisneros, music education major and first-time assistant stage manager.

“A lot of the stuff we get from Value Village,” Cisneros said. “There’s a costume storage place on campus we’re able to check things out of, and a lot of the stuff we make. We just have to be very thrifty about it.”

Stage director Amber Sudduth Bone, doctor of musical arts, said one way the Western Opera stayed on budget for this performance was by sewing the chainmail costumes out of steel-wool.

Uphill battle

“Everything that has been the struggle for the last week is starting to fall into place,” Merrill said.

The crew has been rehearsing for about five hours a day, every day, for the past few weeks to fine-tune their performance.

With classes and rehearsal, Cisneros spends a minimum of nine hours a day on campus; this past week has increased to 12 hours a day, he said.

A couple of weeks before the show is set to go on, all sets and costumes are completed, and the cast is down to working out minor details, Merrill said.

Sewing costumes, going over super-title slides, finishing up sets, fixing props and set parts that break, deciding lighting cues, ensuring props are in the correct location and ending each rehearsal with an hour of notes keeps back-of-house busy in the days before show time.

“When all of the little details line up and people feel free to play, and they feel beautiful and excited and proud of what they’re doing; it’s just the best,” Bone said.

As stage director, Bone has a part in everything that goes on both backstage and onstage, requiring her to multi-task at all times.

Whether she’s fitting an actor’s costume while going over lighting cues or sewing costumes while going over notes with her assistant stage managers, Bone swiftly flowed from one task to the next     with no finish line in sight.

Occasionally, Bone answered questions and suggested alterations

to costumes and sets with a definitive confidence in her tone only a stage director can possess.

In previous years, Cisneros has either acted or been a part of set-building. This is the first performance he has had a directional role in.

Cisneros spent the past few weeks behind a desk taking notes to give to the actors and actresses, making the thought of the performance as a whole on opening night more enticing.

For Cisneros, tech week’s ending means he will be able to see the performance for the first time.

“I’m just so excited for Saturday when I can turn that off and just actually watch the show and enjoy it,” Cisneros said.

The opera’s doors opened 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 9. Tickets can be bought at the box office for $10 with a student ID and $16 without. (PAC poster) Additional performances will be held in the PAC choir room 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 15; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 17.


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