Irish National Opera’s Cosi Fan Tutte is an uproarious romcom with a dash of Irish history

Novelist Elizabeth Bowen was the contemporary chronicler of the death of country house life in Ireland, as the Great War, Irish revolution, and the march towards women’s suffrage changed the world forever.

This year director Polly Graham has grabbed Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte by its horns and bent it into an uproarious Irish reincarnation in Irish National Opera’s new production.

Ferrando and Guglielmo, privileged lads whose daily weapons are tennis rackets and croquet mallets, are called up to carry more deadly implements against a background of patriotic calls to arms.

Throughout the opera, we see a model of the country house tossed from hand to hand in significant turmoil as the young men lightheartedly take on the bet from the cynical (older) Don Alfonso, who wants to disillusion them about love and, or, about the fidelity of their lovely young paramours.

We’re never quite sure whether it’s a kindness or an act of deep misanthropy and misogyny. Either way, it’s reality.

And as the lads pretend to go to war, returning in disguise to trap the flower-like heroines into betrayal, there’s comic plot after comic plot which ends (naturally, since this is “opera buffa”) in their being reunited – whether for good or ill, temporary or enduring, it remains to be seen. But all four are wiser in the ways of the world.

Mozart stirred in plenty of off-the-cuff hilarity. Graham stirs deeper with Jack Phelan’s inspired video melange of Irish newspaper headlines from 1912 to 1914, and a plot within a plot as the young lovers get involved in the making of an funny early movie on the legend of Fionn MacCool. It all mirrors the composer’s genius: dropping us straight into a magical trio right at the start, and racing through the breathtaking set pieces that comprise the whole.​

Soprano Anna Devin soars (literally) through Fiordiligi along with mezzo Sharon Carty as Dorabella, their vocal purity only matched by a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek awakening from teenage innocence into panting passion.

The opposing forces of tenor Dean Power as Ferrando and baritone Benjamin Russell as Guglielmo are gloriously perfect foils, and the mischief-makers, bass John Molloy as Don Alfonso and mezzo Majella Cullagh as a riotous Despina, are matchless.

Peter Whelan conducts the INO orchestra with matchless verve that never loses subtlety. Jamie Vartan’s dazzling set and costumes, a joy in themselves, are lit by Sinéad McKenna.

After its run in Dublin last week, Cosi Fan Tutte tours to Galway and to Cork this week with an alternate cast.

If you are embarrassed at Ireland having stood by as Nazism threatened to destroy Europe during World War II, it would be a relief if there were some historical truth to Stewart Roche’s The Twenty Club, a Demons and Dust production at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, Dublin.​

Admittedly, it’s a bit far-fetched in its premise: three young women are part of a Bletchley Park-style surveillance unit under the control of a shadowy Irish Army officer in the heart of Dublin during World War II. Their targets are members of the German community in Dublin, mostly diplomats and academics.

But there’s a problem: the shadow of the German-collaborating IRA hangs over the unit, with privileged Joan’s Wicklow-based family very friendly with Maud Gonne’s daughter Iseult and, by extension, with Iseult’s husband Francis Stuart, who broadcasts traitorously from Berlin on behalf of the Nazi regime. Then there’s giddy young Norah, newly recruited but loose-tongued. Sensible Ellen is trying to keep a grip of things. Or is she the traitor?

The outcome is a mission in Portugal with a tragic outcome, and the women meet at a Dublin diplomatic party to reminisce after peace broke out.

It’s tightly played by Evanne Kilgallon as Norah, Lesley Conroy as Ellen and Ciara Berkeley as Joan, and directed by the author with a slickly tight fist. The trouble is it gives the impression of having been cut down, possibly from a TV series scenario, and that rather takes from it.

But it’s sophisticated in concept and handling, and elegantly designed by Kathy Ann Murphy (with the assistance of evening gowns from Jenny Vander vintage clothing). It’s lit by Colm Maher, and is a nice bit of lunchtime escapism.

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