'Cosi fan tutte" boasts a rare combination: It is a hilarious romp and has gorgeous music.
Mozart's beloved 1790 opera —the Italian title literally translates to "Thus do all," but also can be rendered as "They all do it" — has returned to the War Memorial Opera House in an appealing revival of the 2004 San Francisco Opera co-production with Opéra de Monte-Carlo.
Created by John Cox and directed by Jose Maria Condemi, this version takes place in the World War I era.
Both romantic and cynical, the story is about Don Alfonso (bass Marco Vinco) who bets his friends, Ferrando (tenor Francesco Demuro) and Guglielmo (Adler Fellow bass-baritone Philippe Sly) that their fiancees will betray them in 24 hours, because everybody — but mostly women in Mozart's misogynous world — is unfaithful.
The women — Fiordiligi (soprano Ellie Dehn) and Dorabella (German mezzo Christel Lötzsch in her American debut) — comply in the opera's real three-hour time, but not to worry: All ends well. The characters forgive each other, and the audience won't forget the music.
In addition to its best-known excerpt, the farewell trio "Soave sia il vento" ("May the wind be gentle") — heard on many a soundtrack including the 1971 film "Sunday Bloody Sunday" — the opera has many glorious arias and duets.
At Sunday's opening performance, Dehn's "Come scoglio" ("Like a rock") and "Per pietà, ben mio" ("For pity's sake, my beloved") and Lötzsch's "È amore un ladroncello" ("Love is a little thief") were especially well-performed.
Merola and Adler alumna Susannah Biller, as the maid Despina, shined in one of opera's great comic roles, befitting a Rossini heroine.
Nicola Luisotti's musical direction was lively and shimmering, with a few exceptions of excessively slow tempos, especially in the second act. Luisotti also provided the fortepiano accompaniment for recitatives, along with Giuseppe Finzi's harpsichord. Cellist Thalia Moore played some exceptionally beautiful passages.
Robert Perdziola's colorful Mediterranean set design, complete with a flotilla of boats floating in the background, beautifully transformed from a resort hotel to a wartime hospital.
REVIEWCosi fan tutte
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. June 26 and July 1; 8 p.m. June 21, June 29
Tickets: $22 to $340
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com