‘Cosė’ needed to rush net more
As the overture to Boston Midsummer Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte’’ plays, two pairs of lovers pantomime a doubles tennis match, the physical comedy ingeniously revealing both their individual characters and their mingled affection and tension. It’s a terrific beginning, but the rest of the opera abandons that imaginative elegance in favor of teeming slapstick.
Director Drew Minter first staged this “Così,’’ the action transplanted to a Connecticut tennis club, in 2000; according to the program, Minter has since “revised, updated and enhanced’’ it, perhaps continuously and cumulatively, given the sheer amount of stage business.
It often worked divertingly well, justifying the implausibility of the plot (on a bet, the male lovers disguise themselves as Albanians, trying to goad their sweethearts into infidelity). Elsewhere, the profusion of shtick displaced some of Mozart’s most beautiful music.
Minter’s English translation supplies some adroit rhymes and some very funny colloquialisms. But the vernacular text, while crisply delivered, caused most of the singers to disjoint the musical line, sacrificing the original Italian’s limpid flow. The result was another trade: more immediate theater, less bewitching melody.
Eric Downs, as the instigator Don Alfonso, showed the best sense of phrase, his bass-baritone suavely insistent. As his partner-in-cynicism Despina, soprano Sara Heaton was also vocally fine, resonant and clear, with a fluctuating Fran Drescher accent and a surfeit of sass. Darren Anderson (Ferrando) displayed a bright, florid tenor, and David McFerrin (Guglielmo) drew out some beautifully lyrical baritone singing; both suitors fared better with the longer vowels of their fake Albanian accents.
As their fiancées, soprano Vira Slywotzky (Fiordiligi) wasn’t always successful paring her big sound down, while mezzo Megan Roth (Dorabella) wasn’t always successful in powering her lean sound up. But both voices warmed as the evening went on. Everyone’s acting was dexterous and convincing, with Downs and Slywotzky especially adept at less-is-more stage presence. Susan Davenny Wyner led a reduced, 20-piece orchestra in a solid, sometimes bulky reading, though that could be attributed to the Tsai Perfomance Center’s acoustic.
It’s telling that, at opera’s end, just as the mood seems ready to tip into something deeper and more emotionally complex, Minter drops in one final interruption of amusing, anachronistic choreography. In tennis terms, the production effectively works the baseline, and enough shots fall in to make for an entertaining evening. But, after the opening, one wishes this “Così’’ had rushed the net a few more times.