The opera season is here, and it began in a dinner theater. The Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church presented Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" in a novel venture that pleased music lovers and gourmets at its Friday opening night.

Dinner theater, like pinball and mountain oysters, was always one of those pleasures I preferred to hear about rather than experience. This "Cosi " made me a convert. Mozart's tale of disguised infidelity and lovers' doubts is not an easy work to sing or act, and it would be difficult to overpraise this modest yet witty and exciting production directed by Sally Long. The results were a Mozartian gem in this Wesleyan setting.

Harry Dunstan was a splendid Ferrando. His gorgeous natural lyric tenor is stylishly exploited. He was dashing as the soldier lover, slyly sexy in his Albanian disguise. And the evenness of the sound throughout the range and regardless of tempo was all the more remarkable because he is still quite a few years away from a mature voice. He is an artist to watch.

As his sidekick Guglielmo, Steven Heaton could outline all the notes, but age has not yet colored in the textures. A charming presence made up for this, however, and his performance was a delight. The same was true of Dorothy Yanes, a soprano Dorabella with a light voice that might have been better suited for the role of Despina. As that maid, Lynn Angebranndt was a silver-plated soubrette full of naughty fun.

In the pivotal role of Fiordiligi, Marguerita Kris took until "Come scoglio" to find the proper vocal placement. When she did, she showed a strong spinto soprano capable of traversing the role's furious register leaps with impressive command and a particularly effective chest voice. As Don Alfonso, Darryl Winston displayed the richest voice in the cast, relishing every morsel of sound before letting it go.

The opera was sung in English, slightly cut, and with only piano accompaniment by Steve Hiser instead of an orchestra. That it worked so well in such modest circumstances is a great tribute to the Mount Vernon Place music department. And at $10 for dinner and a show, it is the best deal in town. "We are an urban church, after all," said director Long over coffee. "We have to go out to the inner city, offer our congregation the best quality at prices it can afford, and we have to stay culturally alive. I hope this works."

It did.

"Cosi fan tutte" will be repeated on Sept. 18 and 19.