`COSI FAN TUTTE," an opera for six characters, has a Salt Lake cast that's a dream team, says stage director Andrew Foldi.

The Mozart masterpiece will be presented by Utah Opera at the Capitol Theatre on Jan. 19, 21, 23, 25 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. - partly to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the composer's death and partly for the fun of it all.The plot revolves around a monumental practical joke. Don Alfonso, a cynical old bachelor, lays a wager with the lovesick suitors, Ferrando and Guglielmo, that their fiancees, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, will be unfaithful to them within 24 hours. Through cunning trickery, with the aid of the clever maid, Despina, Alphonso almost succeeds in putting his scheme over; but all ends happily.

"I love `Cosi,' it has the most phenomenal music," said Foldi, a soft-spoken man with twinkling eyes that suggest his sharp wit and directing acumen.

"Perhaps my favorite single number is the trio that Don Alfonso and the women sing. (That's the same music that Salieri is examining in `Amadeus' when he realizes that he will never be so great.) And I love the quintet where the lovers say goodbye while Alfonso makes little laughing interjections, a stroke of genius. The whole sequence in the first act is just marvelous - the military quartet, the quintet, the trio.

"Mozart is my favorite composer, and his three operas to da Ponte librettos ("Figaro," "Don Giovanni" and "Cosi") are among the great masterpieces of art," Foldi continued. "Despite the artificialities of the plot and the chauvinistic story, Mozart was very concerned with the humanity of his characters, which he expressed through the music. And love, not chauvinism, triumphs in the end.

"Though the fact that the girls don't recognize their suitors is a little preposterous, the men's Albanian disguises can be very broad so that they are practically impenetrable, and Sue Allred of Utah Opera is one of the great, great costumers in this country."

Foldi, who is fulfilling his third Utah Opera directing assignment, began his musical career as a critic. He has sung many bass-baritone character and buffo roles, with practically every major opera company of America and Europe, including the Vienna Staatsoper, La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera and Chicago Lyric. He's especially noted for his definitive Schigolch in Berg's "Lulu" and for his 300 Bartolos in "The Barber of Seville." Recordings, television appearances and orchestral soloing have all claimed his time and interest.

Foldi became well-acquainted with Glade Peterson at Zurich Opera, where they appeared at the same time - Peterson as lead tenor and Foldi as lead comic bass. Since 1981 he has been chairman of the opera department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, with many national staging engagements.

Foldi believes that the stage director should serve the composer ("opera is the only music that needs this sort of middle man") and an opera's success depends greatly on abilities of the theater man involved. "You must be a musician to stage well, all the really great directors are musicians. And you should know the opera in its native language; even a good translation leaves out some nuances."

Foldi himself has sung Don Alfonso many times, and he enjoys the role, though he doesn't agree with the cynical viewpoint. He keeps the comedy light and frivolous but not farcical, even in the scene where Despina disguised as a doctor works her magnetic spell.

Foldi's "dream team" begins with soprano Brenda Harris, the Fiordiligi, whose recent credits include a New York City Opera debut as Violetta in "La Traviata" and Countess in the "Marriage of Figaro" in St. Louis. She's sung for Opera Pacific, Fort Worth and Lake George Operas among others. And as winner of the New York Oratorio Society's competition, she has often sung in Carnegie Hall, most recently as Euridice opposite Dame Janet Baker's Orfeo.

Mezzo soprano Ariel Bybee, the Dorabella, is well-known to Utah audiences and has for the past 13 seasons been a house soprano with the Metropolitan Opera. (See accompanying interview.)

William Parcher, the Guglielmo, has sung frequently at New York City Opera during the past five seasons. The young baritone has also appeared with Texas Opera Theater and Houston Grand Opera and debuted at La Scala as Junior in Bernstein's "A Quiet Place." Other credits are with Central City, Chautauqua, Seattle, Cincinnati, Washington and Pittsburgh operas and with the National and Houston symphonies.

George Hogan, who sings Alfonso, is a student of Giorgio Tozzi and was an international finalist in the Pavarotti Competition. He's studied with San Francisco Opera's Merola program, toured with Western Opera Theater and sung with Des Moines Metro, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Memphis, Indianapolis, Syracuse, Omaha and Dallas operas, among others.

Completing the cast is Utah soprano Susan Deauvono as Despina. Her recent main stage roles with Utah Opera have included Gretel, Olympia in "Tales of Hoffmann" and Papagena in "The Magic Flute," and she is well-known to thousands of Utah schoolchildren through the opera in the schools program.

Byron Dean Ryan, music director of the Utah Opera, will conduct "Cosi fan tutte" with members of Utah Symphony in the pit. Elegant 18th century costumes are designed by Susan Memmott Allred, with sets from Cincinnati Opera.

Single tickets from $10-$35 are on sale at the Utah Opera box office in the theater lobby, 50 W. 200 South, or phone 524-8383, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

- THE OGDEN OPERA GUILD will conduct a symposium on "Cosi fan tutte" tonight at 6 p.m. in the Eccles Art Center in Ogden, with musical excerpts and insights from stage director Andrew Foldi and conductor Byron Dean Ryan. A light supper will follow. Admission is free to guild members, $3 for others.

- OPERABITES is offered free to the community on Friday, Jan. 18, at 12:15 p.m., in the Capitol Theatre. Foldi and Ryan will discuss "Cosi fan tutte," and Susan Memmott Allred will show costumes. Bring your own lunch, or arrange for a $5 box lunch through the Opera office, 534-0842.