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The battle of the sexes will always provide fodder for entertainment. The issue of fidelity, in particular, never runs out of juice - if it did, a massive wing of the television industry would suddenly collapse.

Innumerable operas have depended on this topic, too. And none more incisively than Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," which delivers its laughs with a pinch of pain.

Except for the sexist notion at the heart of the plot, little about the 1790 opera seems dated. The sitcom elements in Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto still amuse, while the deeper, darker examinations of the human heart can still touch us in surprising ways.

Fortunately, that potent mix of the humorous and the serious came through to such an effective degree in Peabody Opera Theatre's production of "Cosi" Thursday night that it was almost possible to ignore the shortage of notable singing. (An alternate cast performs Sunday.)

Director A. Scott Parry tossed in several freshly funny bits to the familiar action, which unfolded at a good clip on Thomas Donahue's economical set.

Marissa Del Campo proved especially bubbly as Dorabella, the least resistant of two sisters who become the targets of a scheme to determine how long they can remain faithful to their soldier-boyfriends. With an arsenal of facial expressions and telling body language, Del Campo's portrayal overflowed with personality. She was also the most consistently appealing vocalist, producing a warm, smooth sound.

Katherine Woodward captured the spirit of Dorabella's formidable, yet still vulnerable, sister, Fiordiligi. The soprano hit some nice peaks along the way, but her voice needed more technical firmness.

As Don Alfonso, the cynic who talks the sisters' beaus into the bet about the fickleness of womanhood, Benjamin Moore sang with a certain suavity, but little weight.

Peter Drackley (Ferrando) and James Parks (Guglielmo) were unable to match their generally engaging characterizations with voices sufficiently developed to fill out Mozart's indelible music. Elexa Bancroft had the zest and perkiness to portray the conniving maid, Despina, but her slender tone proved limiting.

Conductor JoAnn Kulesza set breezy tempos and drew mostly fluent, flavorful playing from the orchestra.

The question that always hangs over "Cosi fan tutte" is whether the lovers, having changed partners and learned so much about themselves, can return to their original pairings. The libretto says so, but directors don't always take that as gospel.

There are a few ways to depict the outcome for the two couples, and this production chooses one that fits as neatly as any.

Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" will be performed at 3 p.m. Sunday at Peabody Institute, 17 E. Mount Vernon Place. $10 to $25. 410-234-4800,

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