OPERA THEATRE Company, Ireland’s national opera company, comes to Galway next week with a sparkling new production of Mozart’s much-loved Così Fan Tutte.
Charming, witty, and provocative, Così Fan Tutte is filled with beguiling arias and iconic ensembles, and explores the vagaries and vacillations of young love.
In Mozart’s tale of temptation and seduction, two young men make the mistake of boasting about their perfect lovers. Don Alfonso spots a chance to make some money and claims all women are fickle, wagering that these ‘constant fiancées’ can be easily seduced.
Cynical and manipulative, Don Alfonso intends to win the bet, and enlists the help of the sisters’ maid, Despina. Filled with wry comic wit and irreverence, by the time this vivacious, intriguing opera ends, Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte, have spared no one.
This dynamic new production by Irish director Orpha Phelan, enjoyed both popular and critical success when it opened last November and was described by one critic as “simply exquisite”.
The beguiling beauty of Mozart’s music creates a sublime background for this provocative battle of the sexes. This delightful opera has plenty of opportunities for comedy and Phelan’s direction rises to the occasion and manages to combine entertainment with profoundly thought provoking moments.
Originally from Kilkenny, Phelan has directed with Opera North, Strasbourg Opera, Malmö Opera Sweden, and Opera Australia (Sydney Opera House ). Interestingly, her initial steps toward a career in the arts were taken while she was studying for an economics degree at NUI Galway in the early 1990s.
“I loved Galway,” she tells me over a morning phone call. “I did some reviews for one of the local papers. Then I went to London to do a degree in arts criticism as I thought that would be my way of being involved in the arts. But when I was there I was going to see performances five or six nights a week and realised there was this thing called ‘the director’. It was an epiphany and I knew that is what I wanted to do, but it was as a result of the reviews I had started writing while in Galway.”
Phelan then got herself an unpaid job as an assistant director and archivist at the Almeida Theatre which enabled her to start learning her craft.
“I spent the summer working for free at the Almeida. They really exploited me to tell the truth but I was all up for being exploited,” she says with a laugh.
While Phelan has since gone on to enjoy a successful international career directing opera, remarkably this is her first time to direct in Ireland.
“I’ve been directing for 15 years and I had almost given up trying to make it happen,” she notes wryly. “It was only when I had stopped trying that I got the phonecall from Opera Theatre Company. It has been an absolute joy, I can’t tell you how much I have loved working back in Ireland.”
This is also her first time to direct Così Fan Tutte and she offers her thoughts on the opera and her approach to it.
“Many musicians, if asked what is the most sublime of Mozart’s operas, they would say Così,” she says. “The music is transcendental, exquisite, and yet the story itself has the potential to be very silly. I found the prospect of marrying the two daunting – this silly story and exquisite music.
“I spent quite a long time with my designer trying to figure out the best approach we could take in order not to make the drama farcical. It’s not a traditional production but I feel we have been truthful to the beauty of the music and yet also presented a mature take on the drama.”
The music is provided by a six-piece onstage ensemble, conducted by Andrew Griffith.
“Having the musicians onstage was one of the things that frightened me when asked to do this, and OTC said ‘It’s a reduced orchestra and they are all going to be onstage for nearly all of the performance’” Phelan says. “At first I was horrified because the musicians are normally out of sight but we’ve embraced the idea and we have a seaside, nautical, theme to the production and the musicians are on a bandstand as if they were on the end of the pier in their boater hats. The musicians themselves have really bought into the concept of the show and are very comfortable with it.”
Set design is by Madeleine Boyd with lighting by Aedín Cosgrove and the production is sung in English.
Così Fan Tutte comes to the Town Hall Theatre on Valentine’s night, Thursday February 14, at 7.30pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie