‘Cosi’ for all in Central City Opera’s hit — 4.5/5 stars

In Central City Opera’s current production of Mozart’s “Cosí Fan Tutte,” it’s the house mistress Despina that gives mezzo-soprano Megan Marino a chance to steal the show in her brief appearances on stage.

AURORA | Performers and audiences know the best characters aren’t always the ones with the most stage time. It’s a theatrical truism that has proven correct across time.

In Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream,” the mischievous Puck doesn’t make an appearance until the second act. Yet it is Puck, not the pairs of lovers, that audiences adore and actors line up to play. Because even though the part is small, it’s what the actors get to do in that short time that makes it so memorable and fun.

In Central City Opera’s current production of Mozart’s “Cosí Fan Tutte,” it’s the house mistress Despina that gives mezzo-soprano Megan Marino a chance to steal the show in her brief appearances on stage. And Marino doesn’t disappoint. With both  sublime comedic timing and a voice that can’t be constrained even when muffled by a surgeon’s mask at one point, Marino proves what a great talent can do with the right character.

Marino is just one highlight in a spectacular production of a show that has inspired scandal and criticism since it first debuted in the 18th century. The opera, despite Mozart’s stunning score, wasn’t shown in the United States until the 1920s, in part because of what was then considered to be risque subject matter.

The story centers around Ferrando and Guglielmo, two friends resolute in the faith of their betrothed, sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella. So assured they are, the two take a bet with an old friend to put that faith to the test by tricking the women they love and tempting them to stray. The Italian title, ‘all women behave like this’, foreshadows the plot going array for both Ferrando and Guglielmo.

No one would accuse Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte of being proto-feminists.

Yet it isn’t the commentary on women and love that makes the source material so wonderful. Just as Mozart and Da Ponte did in their collaborations on “Don Giovanni” and “Le Nozze di Figaro,” “Cosí Fan Tutte” combines Mozart’s compositions at their best with a template for great comedic performances with a hint of tragedy.

The opera gives its audiences plenty of laughs and the comedic timing on stage speaks to both the quality of the direction of the show and the talent of the cast. The production has been set at a university in the late Victorian era and while the costumes and set pieces are beautiful to look at, the selection of the time period seems arbitrary and doesn’t add anything to the audience’s connection with the story.

Considering the source material’s opinion on love and the fidelity of women, maybe it’s best the production doesn’t try and dig too deep into the meaning of the opera.

The cast doesn’t waste the wonderful conduction by John Baril, the musical director for Central City Opera, and the orchestra’s work. This is some of Mozart’s most romantic music and the entire cast doesn’t shy away from showing the love.

Marino isn’t alone in having both an abundance of vocal power and comedic chops. Mezzo-soprano Tamara Gura as Dorabella, bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as Don Alfonso,  tenor Matthew Plenk as Ferrando and baritone David Adam Moore as Guglielmo seem to relish playing their parts. All four bring amazing voices to bare in their performances and a somewhat hammy approach to the comedy that works wonderfully for the material. This isn’t subtle comedy and if it had been approached with a subtle hand, it would have left the performance sorely lacking.

Soprano Hailey Clark is a revelation in her part as Fiordiligi, the sister that tries valiantly to fight the temptation of the disguised men. There are moments that Clark’s voice is a whisper that fills the opera house with its power. In the opportunities Clark gets to take over the stage, like in the aria “Per pietà,” the audience is treated to not only a voice worthy of admiration, but also the beauty inherent in the music of Mozart.

While it’s not unique to this production, there has to be something said for how wonderful of a place Central City is to see an opera. The intimacy of the venue is something that can’t be reproduced in a larger opera house.

As a first timer to Central City Opera for a production, it was a true pleasure to see a production worthy of a New York stage in a small town mountain setting. It might be an hour and a half drive up the mountain, but as the curtain is drawn and the first notes are sung, it is apparent rather quickly that every minute in the car was worth it.

Four and one half out of five stars 

What: Central City Opera’s “Cosí fan tutte”

When: Matinees at 2:30 p.m on July 29, Aug. 2, Aug, 4. Evening shows at 8 p.m. on July

Where: Central City Opera 124 Eureka St. Central City

Tickets: $31-108. Call the box office at 303-292-6700 or visit centralcityopera.org.