Reviews of Così Fan Tutte, Opera Theatre Company 2012/13
There is no “bella calma” in Phelan’s dénouement - the two women flounce off truculently into the wings, body-language bristling with outrage, while the three men and Despina attempt to rustle up a modicum of insouciant merriment as Da Ponte and Mozart, with uncomfortable promptitude, lower the curtain. It feels appropriate, and satisfying: the arm-wrestle between the sharp cynicism and mysogyny of Da Ponte’s wickedly pointed libretto, and Mozart’s tendency to bathe the action in music of warmly sympathetic fellow-feeling and humane benevolence, is the opera’s biggest unresolved conflict, and a major endurer of its continuing fascination.
This OTC Così speaks with marked articulacy. Orpha Phelan’s production is particularly strong on distinguishing clearly between the female characters. There’s no doubting, for example, the sheer feistiness of this particular Dorabella: we first encounter her lolling in a deck-chair, page-flicking through her iPad’s photo-app, and drooling over snapshots of her sailor-boy Ferrando. In the chair beside her is a paperback of Fifty Shades of Grey, which Alfonso (ever the interested student of sexual heterogeneity) pockets furtively when she isn’t looking....Martha Bredin’s sassiness is starkly contrasted by Phelan with the deeper, more conflicted emotions of Mairéad Buicke’s Fiordiligi...Phelan choreographs “Per pietà”with the smooth clarity of classical sculpture, eventually leaving Buicke horizontally prostrated as she wrenches forth the final measures of the aria from some pained place in her inner being.
Phelan works particularly resourcefully with designer Madeleine Boyd, transforming Alfonso’s den into the sisters’ girly domestic interior, then stripping it to bare scaffolding during the interval, providing a framework for the quayside boardwalk where the manoeuvrings of Act Two unravel. Phelan’s conception of Alfonso as part-showman, part-necromancer, enables her to field a startlingly large magnet for “Doctor” Despina to play around with, and the poisoning episode to be done literally, without seeming ridiculously hammy to a modern audience. Full marks, also, for Phelan’s decision to permit Colette Delahunt, the pert, soubrettish, wise and likeable Despina, to actually sing her cameos as doctor and notary properly, rather than squeak them out irritatingly (as often happens) as though she’d just inhaled industrial quantities of helium.
In cleverly placing the rank tomfoolery involved in parts of Così’s plot within the context of Alfonso’s status as something of an exotic fairground attraction, Phelan’s production manages to be both faithful to the original Mozart-Da Ponte conception, and satisfyingly contemporary in clearly framing the difficult moral and emotional questions we nowadays view the opera as raising.It’s a thoroughly entertaining but also strongly thought-provoking staging, and shouldn’t be missed by audiences as it moves away from Dublin on a thirteen-date tour of the Irish provinces. ****
Opera Britannia, 2012
An intelligent and sensitive production... Director Orpha Phelan treats the characters almost as archetypes. The sisters are Essex girls, with Fiordiligi (Mairéad Buicke) nearly elegant and Dorabella (Martha Bredin) a vulgarian – a young Hyacinth Bucket, but without moral rectitude. Their genial lovers, Ferrando (Sune Hjerrild) and Guglielmo (Owen Gilhooly) seem at everyone’s mercy. Crucially, Don Alfonso (Simon Wilding) is a Victorian magician-cum-ringmaster of magical manipulative power.... The stage direction and Madeleine Boyd’s impeccable designs let music work its magic...
Irish Times, 2012
The Opera Theatre Company’s adaptation of Mozart’s Cosí Fan Tutte, or All Women Are Like That, is a scintillating and contemporary comedy of human relations. Director Orpha Phelan’s presentation of “a theatrical spectacle” dictated by the devilish Alfonso, Simon Wilding, is as alluring as it is refreshing. Orpha’s interpretation and reinvention of a beloved warhorse of the Mozartrepertoire saw the orchestra’s placement on stage in boat hats, which tied in nicely with the work’s seaside theme. Probably the first Mozart adaptation to include a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, a savvied use of props ranged from two multifaceted umbrellas to a giant magnet utilised as a steering mechanism. Act One was particularly inventive in its scenic mobility; from a basic structure grew a ship, a dining room, and porthole windows became a rabbit hole through which pillows and duvet made their disappearance...*****
Plenty in this witty and imaginative rendering, set in a present day of I-pads, smartphones and saucy novels...The play within a play setting of the magician’s wagon was a clever idea, allowing the story to unfold more as a fanciful entertainment than real life. In the end, the girls are angry at the way they have been manipulated, and leap from the wagon of just-married bliss to escape into the unknown. A nice touch from director Orpha Phelan. ****
The Irish Examiner, 2012
Orpha Phelan’s interpretation of the opera is sincere and properly thought through. It’s a question of trying to decipher the behaviour of Don Alfonso, the older cynic who toys so determinedly with the happiness of these young couples. This character-led staging sees the jaunty games of travelling illusionist Alfonso’s emporium turn distinctly sour; it’s a muscular and stylish show – designed and lit with style and economical pith by Madeleine Boyd and Aedín Cosgrove – and this young cast strikes sparks off each other as sex, love, betrayal and mistrust take the field one more time.
The Tablet 2013
Making the figure of Don Alfonso the opera’s pivotal character, director Orpha Phelan views him as a man of means bored with life. While da Ponte considered him a philosopher, here he is a travelling conman/fortune-teller entertaining himself by meddling in the affairs of those he befriends. So, his manipulation of the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, their maid-of-all-work Despina and their suitors Ferrando and Guglielmo, becomes a plausible intrigue...
The Irish Independent, 2013