“All women do thus”! With its misogynistic undertones, Mozart’s comic opera Così fan tutte is simply calling out for a feminist makeover. For Irish National Opera, Polly Graham radically recasts the fickle women as young women who awaken to their changed emotions and find self-liberation in renouncing their pasts. Set on the cusp of the First World War in an Anglo-Irish setting, Graham is keen to push the Suffragette movement as a backdrop in which both Fiordiligi and Dorabella can “absorb the possibilities of the socio-political movements of the time and discover a new emotional identity... with their new boyfriends.” Since none of the dialogue of the opera engages with this idea, it remains a puzzling, peripheral affair.

Anna Devin (Fiordiligi), Sharon Carty (Dorabella) and Majella Cullagh (Despina)
© Ruth Medjber

Jamie Vartan's costumes at the start are Edwardian – bright suits and tennis racquets for Fernando and Guglielmo and simple frocks for the ladies – but as the opera progresses and the sisters discover their own feminism their transformation is illustrated by more modern trousers suits and the act of smoking cigarettes. Graham introduces a meta-narrative with the second set of wooing being done through the shooting of silent films. Here, ancient Irish mythology is used to good comic effect, with the principals donning prehistoric helmets and cloaks.

Così fan tutte, Act 2
© Ruth Medjber

The sets are simple and minimalistic: a green mound represents the grounds outside the country manor or, more generally, the countryside. At strategic points, there is use of video montages in order to help set the scene. While I’m not a fan of this in general, it didn’t distract half as much as the farcical and redundant words projected onto the scene as, for example, when Fernando and Guglielmo pretend to have taken poison. It felt like an intrusion with an attempt at humour from the directorial voice in the midst of the action.

Anna Devin (Fiordiligi), Sharon Carty (Dorabella) and John Molloy (Don Alfonso)
© Ruth Medjber

The singing was uniformly excellent. Anna Devin made for a wonderful Fiordiligi. Determined and virtuous for much of the opera, Devin delineated the weakening of her resolve brilliantly. Half-hesitant, shamefacedly curious and finally passionate, her character transformation was majestically done. In “Per pietà”, Devin spun the delicate wisps of her melody with great purity and pity.

Sharon Carty was equally impressive as Dorabella. Here too, the acting was thoroughly convincing. Notably more flighty and flirty from the get go, her capitulation and her encouragement of her sister’s was impeccably done. Her control and pearly tone shone out many the time as evinced by her top B flat in her aria “È amore un ladroncello”.

Benjamin Russell (Guglielmo), Dean Power (Ferrando) and John Molloy (Don Alfonso)
© Ruth Medjber

Dean Power possessed excellent comic timing as Ferrando. His cheery acceptance of the wager had the correct element of slapstick without ever descending into farce. His devastation at discovering Dorabella’s unfaithfulness was truly piteous. Vocally, he was at his best in ensembles, such as the sextet at the end of Act 1. While there was good expression in Ferrando's most famous aria “Un’ aura amorosa”, his voice sounded strained on the high G and A. Guglielmo was sung by Benjamin Russell who possesses a rich, pleasing baritone voice. His duet with Dorabella was enchantingly sung while he imbued his aria “Donne mie, la fate a tanti” with a real jealousy and frustration.

Anna Devin, Dean Power, John Molloy, Majella Cullagh, Sharon Carty and Benjamin Russell
© Ruth Medjber

Both John Molloy as Don Alfonso and Majella Cullagh as Despina shone in their roles, the former possessing a powerful bass voice and a laconic sense of humour. Cullagh hammed up her role as both doctor and notary but was at her sharpest as the sisters’ maid. Peter Whelan conducted a responsive Irish National Opera Orchestra while the chorus sang lustily, bringing the opera to a distinctly different moral conclusion to the one Mozart had intended.