What could possibly be a better way to spend a scorching midsummer evening than in the air-conditioned Tsai Performance Center in the company of Mozart?
Boston Midsummer Opera's debut production, ``The Marriages of Mozart," presented extended sequences of scenes dealing with love and marriage from the three operas Mozart wrote in collaboration with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte.
The cast of participants and winners in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions included two married couples -- soprano Kelly Kaduce and baritone Lee Gregory, and soprano Jami Rogers and tenor Kevin Anderson.
The evening was both a good idea and a maddening one. The good part was that it provided a thoroughly entertaining introduction to Mozart's masterpieces. Witty director Drew Minter also tweaked the standard English translations to make them racier and more colloquial (``I'm hot for your body"). The singers delivered every word clearly, and the audience responded to what the cast was actually singing instead of reading the opera. For the veteran, the evening offered an opportunity to explore Mozart's varying depictions of a central issue in his own life -- and that of most people.
What was less satisfying was that we didn't get to see the characters develop or learn anything about themselves. And some of the internal cuts within sequences, especially the miraculous second act finale of ``The Marriage of Figaro," made for a bumpy ride.
Tenor Anderson is an engaging stage personality, but he sounded hoarse in his three roles and should have been spared the challenge of Don Ottavio's virtuoso aria from ``Don Giovanni."
The other singers were in finer fettle. Kaduce proved a lively comic performer as Fiordiligi in ``Cosi fan tutte," idly flipping through the pages of Cosmo, and as Donna Elvira in ``Don Giovanni," a virago wielding her umbrella like a sword. Then she was touching as the lovelorn Countess in ``Figaro." She has a blushing peach of a voice, but was too ready to sacrifice line and tonal sheen for comic effect. Gregory has a fine, strapping baritone that was most effective as Figaro and as the young soldier Guglielmo in ``Cosi" (his disguise, required by the plot, was a dropdead K. Fed impersonation). As Don Giovanni he indulged in some strange Draculaic maneuvers, as if he were trying to hypnotize his conquests. Rogers has a high, gleaming voice that she used delightfully as three lower-class characters; she was particularly amusing as Despina, the hostess of the snack bar at the tennis club, dressed in hiphuggers and pink high heels.
Bass-baritone Charles Mays Jr. sang with vivid, ringing tone in three contrasting roles. Kellie Van Horn's strong mezzo shone in three roles too. Baritone David Kravitz excelled both as plebe (Don Giovanni's servant) and aristocrat (the Count in ``Figaro"). Soprano Rogers got cut off just before Donna Anna's first big aria in ``Don Giovanni"; she was singing so brightly one regretted this choice. Conductor Philip Lauriat led the professional orchestra in a spiffy performance that sometimes felt hard-driven, but which did allow for a couple of Mozart's moments of sublime repose to flower.
The evening may have proceeded in the wrong order -- ``Figaro," pushing 11 p.m. at the end, was the weakest sequence from the theatrical point of view, ``Cosi" at the beginning the strongest. The tennis club was the most detailed and amusing of Sarah Sullivan's basic sets, and Minter's direction revealed astute observation of human behavior.
It is usually a terrible idea to stage an overture, but Minter's concept, and its execution by the cast, was inspired. The two sets of lovers are playing tennis, the women concerned with their nails, their boyfriends trying to outdo each other as male chauvinist pigs wallowing in macho swagger. It isn't just a game, but instead foreshadows the entire opera -- a courtship ritual and mating dance that is intricate, funny, and disturbing.