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  • Chris O'Rourke

Cosí Fan Tutte

Cosí Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, presented by Irish National Opera. Image by Ros Kavanagh


One of many myths punctured by Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (play 1979, movie 1984) was that of Mozart as an intellectual, high brow composer. On his best behaviour as he politely conversed with the elite of the Viennese court. Instead, we encounter a rambunctious, bawdy, debauched Mozart, more likely to feel at home on Love Island than Achill Island. Living like an outrageous rock star before there ever was a rock star. Cosí Fan Tutte (or Such Are Women or The School for Lovers), his irreverent opera buffa from 1790 upsetting more than one sensibility. Though not the Viennese of the time. Playing with notions of men as idiots and women as paragons of virtue, Mozart pushed at the boundaries of the morally and culturally acceptable. The lusting sexes given a 21st century rinse in Irish National Opera’s heavy handed reimagining. One very keen to be seen as acceptable.

Cosí Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, presented by Irish National Opera. Image by Ros Kavanagh

Transposed to Ireland of 1914, director Polly Graham’s Big House Ireland is more ideological than historical. All wren boys, house servants and stones of destiny with not priest or a crucifix in sight. Jamie Vartan’s cramped set, awash in the colour of nausea, places an abstract green mound between its two tall doorways like the blob from Ghostbusters. A lack of spectacle saved by some excellent projections. Vartan’s costumes somewhat more successful, even as Sinéad McKenna’s lighting proves hit and miss downstage. Within these cramped confines Guglielmo and Ferrando agree to a bet with Don Alfonso to prove their fiancés will always be faithful. Fiordiligi and Dorabella resisting temptation to the point of entrapment and practical blackmail. Until some worldly wisdom from maid Despina gives pause for thought. In what follows, the emphasis is less on when the cat’s away the mice will play so much as what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The amended ending reached via implausible disguises, sloppy seductions, and some sublime singing.

Sarah Brady and Gemma Ní Bhrain in Cosí Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Image by Ros Kavanagh

For those fortunate to regularly attend opening nights, it’s good to miss one now and again. A show several days in often paints a truer picture of itself. It also provides a chance, when a show has rotating casts, to see its second cast perform. In some people’s minds, a second cast amounts to dressed up understudies. The second cast performing in The Gaiety on Saturday evening, May 27 putting paid to that notion, even if cohesion, gained from performing every night, wasn't as strong. Bass Milan Siljanov as Don Alfonso, and soprano Emma Norwood as maid Despina were each terrific. Mezzo-soprano Gemma Ní Bhrain as Dorabella, looking most comfortable with the opera’s comic demands, a joy to both watch and listen to. Soprano Sarah Brady’s Fiordiligi a genuine treat, negotiating the yo yo gymnastics of "Come scoglio” with aplomb, alighting but never delving into the lower range, using it to launch into the higher register where she excelled. If tenor William Morgan’s Ferrando frequently delights, vocally his power seemed to diminish as his arias progressed. Baritone Gianluca Margheri’s robust Guglielmo more consistent, giving several members of the audience reason to question their own fidelity courtesy of a Magic Mike moment Mozart would have enjoyed, and the production needed more of.

Gianluca Margheri as Guglielmo in Cosí Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozar. Image by Ros Kavanagh

And therein lies the problem. Under director Polly Graham Cosí Fan Tutte is a production that doth protest too much. If it comes with misogynistic baggage, Graham deals terrifically with its gender issues, which are brilliantly handled. Vartan’s costume change and Graham’s use of a doll, tea sets and a dolls house highlighting the infantilising of the women involved. Both looking like spoiled brats, supposedly fifteen but really going on seven. But overloading its moral safety net, the opera’s bawdy humour, its loud humanity, its sheer good fun gets mostly buried. Struggling under dated Irish tropes that quickly wear thin and weren’t needed. Graham burying much of its humour under additional baggage till it starts to look kitsch.

Elaine Kennedy conducting Cosí Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Image by Ros Kavanagh

Feeling as if produced by F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri, Cosí Fan Tutte retains all its jokes but few of its laughs. Falling flat to a self-seriousness that takes its themes seriously but forgets how to be funny. Throwing the baby out with the bath water, what endures is the singing. Which is often divine. Especially duets and trios, layered to perfection and made hauntingly beautiful, most notably by Ní Bhrain and Brady. As is Mozart’s score, brought vividly to life by conductor Elaine Kelly. Kelly the unspoken star of the show. Conducting not so much with her baton as with her body. Moving as if dancing to a music no one can hear but her. Holding a conversation, in this instance, with Mozart and channelling it through to us. A pied piper whose orchestra and audience follow helplessly. Kelly simply outstanding. A revelation in this often flawed production, which still manages musical moments that almost touch the divine.

Cosí Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, presented by Irish National Opera, is currently on tour till June 2.

For more information visit Irish National Opera


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