By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Presented by San Francisco Opera
At the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA
Conducted by Anne Manson
Directed by Jose Maria Condemi

Reviewed by Judy Richter

A recent performance of the San Francisco Opera's production of Mozart's "Cosė fan tutte" not only attracted a considerable number of young people but also engaged the audience in its humor and beauty. Excellent singer-actors and enchanting sets and costumes also were captivating.

Conductor Anne Manson and the Opera Orchestra start the fun with the bubbling overture. Then the curtain rises on the salon of a hotel in a Mediterranean resort town in 1914. After Ferrando (tenor Paul Groves) and Guglielmo (baritone Nathan Gunn) tout the fidelity of their girlfriends, the suave Don Alfonso (baritone Richard Stilwell) proposes a wager on that fidelity. The next scene finds the girlfriends, sisters Fiordiligi (soprano Alexandra Deshorties) and Dorabella (mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke) declaring their love for Guglielmo and Ferrando, respectively.

Things get more complicated after that as Don Alfonso sets his plot in motion, with the two young men supposedly going off to war and then returning in disguise as two Albanians, who proceed to woo each other's girlfriend. The two women strive to remain loyal, but with their men facing who knows what in war, their maid, Despina (mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade), urges them to enjoy a fling. Dorabella quickly yields to the charms of the disguised Guglielmo, but the conflicted Fiordiligi holds out much longer.

Part of the beauty of John Cox's production lies in production designer Robert Perdziola's stylish costumes and handsome sets, especially the beachscapes with a deep blue bay and, in Act 1, colorful striped beach umbrellas and, in Act 2, boats' masts outlined with sparkling white lights (lighting by Robert Bryan). It also lies in superb singing, especially by Groves and Deshorties. Groves has good control throughout his range with seamless register breaks and careful attention to dynamic contrasts. Deshorties also has fine technique along with the ability to convey her character's emotional quandary as she tries to remain true to Guglielmo while succumbing to the charms of the disguised Ferrando.

Another joy of this production is von Stade as Despina, who is usually played by a soubrette. Von Stade brings a different, more worldly wise dimension to the role, and she's amusing in Despina's disguises as the doctor and the notary. Von Stade also is still one of the world's reigning divas, a consummate artist.

Besides their individual contributions, the singers blend well in the various ensembles, which Mozart endows with endless musical delights, such as the gentle waves that accompany the lovely "Soave sia il vento," sung by the sisters and Don Alfonso as the two young men supposedly sail off to war. Ian Robertson's Opera Chorus also makes solid contributions, along with Jose Maria Condemi's staging.

Blending all of these elements, the San Francisco Opera creates an enchanting production, one that's likely to bring many of those young people in the audience back for more.

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