A pair of Albanian princes with fake mustaches slink onstage toward the apprehensive young ladies. Wearing embroidered silk smoking jackets in a riot of Oriental colors, the pair recalls SNL's Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd, just a couple of wild and crazy guys, crooning come-ons as they creep closer, crotch first. Ferrando (Ryan MacPherson) especially distinguishes himself for his pelvic thrusts; independent of other considerations, the motions of his trousered genitals—wild arabesques and fantasies clearly visible from row G—merit an award for best unsupported actor. The audience went wild for these exertions, but Mr. MacPherson's black stirrup pants were less sympathetic, as evidenced by an inconvenient rip along the inner upper thigh, exposing a pale pink patch of flesh perilously near the Albanian fertile crescent.
That just about sets the tone for Portland Opera's Cosí fan Tutte: not a terribly subtle production, but not short on laughs, either. In it, two young men, Ferrando and Guglielmo (Keith Phares), begin by bragging to their friend Don Alfonso (Robert Orth) about how faithful their girlfriends are. Guys, please note: This is never a good idea. In response, Don Alfonso bets them 100 gold pieces that within a single day, he can get the girls to fall for someone else. Remarkably, they take the wager, and what follows is a genuine Chinese fire drill, involving Albanian princes and mesmeric doctors, liquid arsenic and wedding cake.
For centuries, audiences and critics have grappled with the high-low tensions inherent in Cosí. On one hand are Lorenzo Da Ponte's lighthearted libretto and its constant, bawdy gags; on the other hand is the musical profundity of Mozart's score and its grim theme: infidelity. If properly managed, this tension can generate great energy and interest in audiences. But that requires a director who will let the jokes be funny and the pathos pathetic. Stage director Elise Sandell fails to strike the appropriate balance. She pursues laughs to the detriment of her characters, such that before the end of Act I, they seem more circus clowns than people. True, there is some great singing to be had here: especially the early terzettino "Soave Sia il Vento" between Don Alfonso, Dorabella (Angela Niederloh) and Fiordiligi (Lauren Skuce). The women's soprano voices blend uncannily over the soft power of Orth's bass; you would swear they really were sisters.
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 241-1802. 7:30 pm Thursday and Saturday, Feb. 11 and 13. $20-$135.