Love, laughter and legends

The bumpy road to love in opera is filled with unexpected twists: incurable diseases, mistaken identities, love potions and uncooperative baritones. Wichita Grand Opera (WGO) keeps the birds and bees buzzing as the curtain rises on two delightful comedies where laughter paves the way to happily ever after.

First, just in time for Valentine's Day, the WGO makes a special appearance at Wichita's Orpheum theatre on February 9th with Donizetti's Don Pasquale. If you can't make it on the 9th, the WGO will be performing the same production in Salina's Stiefel Theatre on February 8th.

As to WGO's production itself, Donizetti was the grandmaster of Italian comedy in his day, and Don Pasquale is one of his best a simple, funny story that still feels fresh. To help it along, director William Powers has updated the setting to modern-day Kansas and the entire production will be performed in English, conducted by Maestro Ken Hakoda of the Salina Symphony in his first WGO appearance.

Don Pasquale manages to stay fresh because its story is so simple. The young lovers, Ernesto and Norina, can't get married because Ernesto's uncle, "Don" Pasquale, won't allow it. He thinks Norina is too poor for Ernesto. Instead, Pasquale decides to get married himself and cut Ernesto out of his will. That's when Pasquale's friend Dr. Malatesta jumps in with a wild scheme to help the young couple show "the Don" the error of his ways.

Then in March, the WGO will stage its first-ever production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Still one of the most-performed operas in the world, Figaro is based on a play that was actually banned in Vienna. Mozart did have a reputation for off-color humor, so his choice of a subject for his new opera was hardly surprising.

Fortunately, when Mozart went shopping for a poet to write the text for Figaro he met Lorenzo Da Ponte, a bit of a scoundrel himself who had been banished from Venice for running a brothel out of his home. The story played right into Da Ponte and Mozart's strengths and became an instant classic.

Figaro and Susanna, two servants of the Count Almaviva, are about to be married. When Susanna reveals that the Count has been trying to seduce her, Figaro plots revenge against his master. Of course, things get out of hand and soon people are hiding in closets, jumping out windows and wearing disguises. Eventually the Count is caught red-handed attempting to seduce his own wife and the opera makes its way to a happy ending.

Wichita Grand Opera's all-star cast will feature five artists from the Metropolitan Opera. Patrick Carfizzi, a "comic genius" with over 275 performances at The Met to his credit, sings the title role of Figaro. Already in the middle of a whirlwind 2012-13 season, Mr. Carfizzi comes to Wichita hot on the heels of starring roles at Opera Cologne (Germany), Houston Grand Opera and Seattle Opera.

Starring as his blushing bride-to-be Susanna is Texan sensation Ava Pine. She already has a Grammy nomination under her belt and, according to all accounts, is set to become opera's Next Big Thing. Her press clippings tell the story: one of her more modest reviews claims she has "one of the best voices of the last 10 years." Among the more glowing comments, Darren Woods, Artistic Director of Fort Worth Opera, simply calls her "a goddess!"

To complete the main cast, world-renowned soprano Zvetelina Vassileva returns to the WGO as the Countess, following her breathtaking performance as Desdemona in Otello. This will also be her third time starring opposite Michael Nansel, who takes the role of Count Almaviva. Mr. Nansel has shown the Wichita audience that he is an absolute chameleon on stage, playing parts ranging from ladies" man Count Danilo in The Merry Widow to the incomparably evil Iago in Otello.

As a special treat in the cast, following in the footsteps of Sam Ramey and Joyce DiDonato, Wichita native Brian Frutiger comes home for his Kansas debut as the gossiping music teacher Basilio after nearly 40 appearances at the Met. Maestro Steven Mercurio, best-known for his appearances with the Three Tenors and Andrea Bocelli, makes his fourth appearance on the WGO podium.

If you're looking for love this spring, Wichita Grand Opera is the perfect match. Tickets are still available for both productions, perfect for a night out on the town with your sweetheart. You can get tickets by calling 316-262-8054 or through

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