Allan Clayton, Rod Gilfry, and Philip Cutlip
in Cosi Fan Tutte
(© Carol Rosegg)
Allan Clayton, Rod Gilfry, and Philip Cutlip
in Cosi Fan Tutte
(© Carol Rosegg)
Perfect productions of anything don't come along often, but the New York City Opera's production of Mozart and Da Ponte's Cosi Fan Tutte, now at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, comes close enough. Indeed, because it's essentially a chamber opera being performed in a chamber opera-sized hall, the intimacy of watching the six main characters scheme to outsmart each other is just one of the big plusses in Christopher Alden's production.

Since proper conducting is a foremost need in any great production, cheers to Christian Curnyn, who throws himself emotionally as well as musically into bringing out the score's lyrical glory. Because of the orchestra pit's configuration, the strings often sound more present than, say, the woodwinds, but never mind. Harpsichordist Bradley Brookshire surely demonstrates his skill.

So do the singers: soprano Sara Jakubiak, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Holloway, lyric tenor Allan Clayton, and baritone Philip Cutlip all fit the bill as young lovers Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Ferrando, and Guglielmo, and lend the always hummable piece unquestionable validity. Then add in the authority that baritone Rod Gilfry brings to conniving Don Alfonso and the fine work of mezzo-soprano Marie Lenormand as mischievous Despina.

What's more, they're all not only good-looking performers, but they're marvelously persuasive comic actors who bring out the authors' intent to poke good-humored fun at these couples, who swear fidelity and then foolishly test their vows under the Don Alfonso-Despina prodding.

Watching the piquant Despina sit astride a cannon while declaiming that all men have the same assets is only one of the undertaking's highpoints. Observing Clayton and Cutlip stagger mechanically when they've supposedly been poisoned is another great moment, and Clayton, Cutlip and Gilfry also make the most of a size-matters sight gag Alden has contrived. (Indeed, Alden plays up the opera's sexual-awakening aspects in ways many directors haven't.)

Alden, set designer Andrew Lieberman and costume designer Terese Wadden haven't quite brought the action into the 21st Century, but they do let the characters (including the chorus) loose in a black-and-white environment that looks like what Georges Seurat and Rene Magritte might have come up with had they been able to collaborate.

A few things do go awry in Alden's plan, such as the odd instance when Don Alfonso enters draped in a bear skin and is eventually led around by Despina. Furthermore, Alden throws to the wind any attempt at disguising Ferrando and Guglielmo when they return to their intendeds as Albanian soldiers; instead, they merely sport mustaches Despina has applied. But these minor missteps don't prevent this production from being one of the embattled City Opera's true crowning achievements.