I'm not often at the opera, but I was up at the SF Opera last night for their current (this was the last of 5 performances) production, and I enjoyed it all the way through, which counts as a huge success for me and opera. Lisa of the Iron Tongue had called this "one of the best things you will ever see" and "one of the best-conceived, best-performed, and best-conducted Mozart productions of the last 25 or so years" and Mozart is one of the two standard-repertoire opera composers I've enjoyed before (the other is Rossini), so I decided to go.
The production was set in a country club in the 1930s. Unfortunately the venue, the War Memorial Opera House (that's WW1 it's memorializing) also dates from the 1930s, which is why I didn't suggest that B. come along, much though she loves Cosi. Physically navigating it was nightmarish enough when we were last there 20 years ago, younger and spryer. Though I think they've replaced the seats since then, which helps, but getting to the restroom ... my word.
On stage, though, all was bright and cheery. The design, the sets and costumes, were sprightly and imaginative. Scenes set in an exercise class or by the pool, with silly costumes and behavior by the chorus members; the first entrance of the previously dignified men (Ben Bliss and John Brancy) in disguise, slinking in with fur coats, cowboy hats, and waxed mustachios; or the women (Nicole Cabell and Irene Roberts) failing to play badminton because they're too depressed to hit the shuttlecock, were funny in themselves. When Despina (Nicole Heaston) appears in disguise as a doctor, she's in 1930s golfing attire and trailing a wheeled golf bag, because what else would a doctor be doing at a country club?
The music moved along vigorously, propelled by Henrik Nanasi's fine conducting and good orchestra work. (The opera orchestra here is certainly much better than the ballet orchestra.) The many arias and duets did not drag, as they could have; and the ensemble pieces - the part of opera I much prefer - absolutely sizzled in the first half of Act 1 Scene 2, which was pure genius from both composer and performers. I've never heard anything in a standard repertoire opera I enjoyed more than this rendition of these numbers.
The singing was powerful and expressive throughout, with only a slightly subdued quality in a few places revealing any weak spots. Could Don Alfonso (Ferruccio Furlanetto) have been a more powerful bass? Possibly. Don't ask him to play Il Commendatore, that's my only advice. He was good enough here as the puppetmaster. Top performing marks go to Ben Bliss as Ferrando; his tenor was the strongest voice in the cast, a gratifying thing to be able to say of a tenor; and he expressed emotion the most effectively in his arias. Everyone else was also good, though resemblances in costume, appearance, and voice meant I sometimes had trouble remembering which was Fiordiligi and which was Dorabella. The characters seemed to have a little trouble figuring out how to match up, too, even before the men go into disguise. I think that was part of director Michael Cavanagh's attempt to subvert the misogynistic plot, but for the most part this show came off as brushing the plot off, which is pretty much what one's forced to do.