Così Fan Tutte – Gaiety Theatre – Review

Così Fan Tutte – Gaiety Theatre – Review
by Gearoid O’Byrne

An Irish National Opera Production
Dates: 23rd May. – 27th May.
Photos by Ruth Medjber

“Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli Amanti” (All Women Do It, or The School for Lovers), is a comic opera in two acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, sung in Italian, which was first performed on 26 January 1790 at the Burgtheater in Vienna, Austria. Mozart wrote this opera in an incredible two months in the penultimate year of his life.

On the surface, it is a comic opera about a cruel game. The plot consists of the cynical Don Alfonso betting two young men Guglielmo and Ferrando that all women are basically unfaithful and that their own fiancées, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, are no better than the rest. The men take the bet and pretend to go off to war, returning disguised as foreign soldiers to woo each other’s lover, with the assistance of Despina the maid.  The subject matter did not offend Viennese sensibilities in 1790, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries was considered risqué and vulgar. After World War II it regained a place in the standard operatic repertoire. However, whether viewed as comedy or tragedy, the plot of Così Fan Tutte is definitely a tricky one in the 21st century!

Originally set in Naples in the 18th century, director Polly Graham has accordingly relocated Così Fan Tutte to a Big House in Ireland circa 1914 around the start of the First World War.  The two sisters as the young ladies of the house evoked Yeats’s poem “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz” –  The light of evening, Lissadell, great windows open to the south, two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle…..  This context enabled director Polly Graham to interweave the opera’s original story with narratives of socialism, nationalism and feminism. With projections of newspaper articles about the outbreak of war, banners proclaiming “Mná na hÉireann” and “Votes for Women” and even a recreation of a photoshoot of stories of Finn McCool, there was a lot happening onstage at times. but this alternative narrative of society dealing with new ideas was an interesting backdrop to sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi developing their own positions as the story progressed.

The six principal roles on the night were all superbly played by Irish singers. Firstly, the two sisters, Fiordiligi (soprano Anna Devin) and Dorabella (mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty) respectively, formed a wonderful duo, utterly believable as sisters whose voices melded beautifully when required. Their paramours Guglielmo (baritone Benjamin Russell) and Ferrando (tenor Dean Power) were in their comic acting a perfect foil for the two sisters. Don Alfonso (bass John Molloy) was suitably misanthropic and last but not least Despina (soprano Majella Cullagh) excelled at some hilarious comic interludes.

Ultimately, however, it’s all about Mozart’s gorgeous and elegant music as performed on the night. The Irish National Opera Orchestra under Conductor Peter Whelan were in fine fettle on the night. Mozart wrote some of his most tender melodies for this opera. The farewell scene – “Soave sia il vento”, a trio for Don Alfonso, Fiordiligi and Dorabella is one of Mozart’s absolute greatest vocal pieces. It is a rare moment where humour and parody fall away, leaving behind utter musical beauty. It was performed by Anna Devin, Sharon Carty and John Molloy on the night.  Similarly, Ferrando’s aria “Un’aura amorosa” also belongs to the exclusive circle of highlights of the opera. Accompanied by muted violins and warm bass sounds we were treated to a spellbinding lyrical performance of this aria by Dean Power. Finally in an opera full of stand-out arias, Fiordiligi’s ‘Come Scoglio’ was a dramatic showpiece at which soprano Anna Devin excelled. There were many other moments where one could simply close one’s eyes and allow the beauty of the music and voices to transport the listener.

DATES & VENUES: This production runs at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre until Saturday 27th May, then a concert performance at Galway Leisureland on Monday 29 May and finally Wed 31 May and Fri 2 June at Cork Opera House. 

Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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