N.C. Operas Così fan tutte is the best production so far in the companys scant four seasons. For overall quality and integration of elements, this evergreen Mozart comedy outshines the companys admirable concert opera presentations and tops any of its previous fully staged works.
The quality was immediately established Thursday as lights came up on David P. Gordons beautiful period setting (on loan from Sarasota Opera), its classical columns and arched windows gorgeously lit by designer Driscoll Otto. Conductor Timothy Myers crisp precision and buoyant energy in the overture assured that the rest of the evening would burble and float along perfectly.
Director Michael Shell wisely guided the singers to avoid over-the-top characterizations (often the downfall in comic opera), asking them to play naturally and subtly while still getting laughs from the situations and the sentiments. His confident staging kept things lively and entertaining.
The singers were anchored by Jake Gardners impressive Don Alfonso, the wise old man who teaches two couples about relationships and fidelity. Gardners long stage experience showed up in every expression and gesture, underpinned by a still-formidable bass-baritone.
The others gave solid performances, each in the beginnings of their careers. The women fared best, led by Elizabeth De Trejos engaging Fiordiligi. Her voice had the strength for soaring high notes but also the control for lovely pianissimos, employed unflaggingly through Mozarts cruel demands. Cecelia Halls Dorabella was amusingly awkward and amorously adventurous, her voice blending nicely in the many duet passages with De Trejo. As the maid Despina, Hailey Clark was thoroughly delightful, her perky characterization and bright vocals never overdone.
Sidney Outlaw, as Fiordiligis beau Guglielmo, sang with booming fullness, although with little variation, his acting more generalized than specific. Tyler Nelson as Ferrando, Dorabellas intended, had a great range of comic expressions and a pleasing vocal tone, but the musics demands pushed him to his limits.
Some questionable sight gags and a few too-modern sexual innuendos aside, the production was of such a piece that any quibbles are minor. The company has firmly established it can muster the resources for productions that need no apologies.