Life on the Moon

By Escott, Angela | Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Life on the Moon


Escott, Angela, Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research


Review of Joseph Haydns opera Life on the Moon (1777) (11 Mondo della Luna, Hob. XXVIIL7), libretto by Carlo Goldoni, translated by James Conway. Directed by Cal McCrystal, conducted by Christopher Bucknall, English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, London, 2014.

Toseph Haydn has not been celebrated as an opera composer, unlike his I near contemporary Mozart. This is partly due to the fact that he wrote exclusively for the Eszterházy family, wealthy Hungarian princes whose country palace included an opera house with a stage the size of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Unlike his symphonies and chamber music, Haydn's operas were generally not performed outside the family's Eszterházy palace, which is not the case with Mozart who rejected the kind of patronage Haydn accepted. II Mondo della Luna (1777) was not performed again until 1932, on the two-hundredth birthday of Haydn, and in 1949 it had performances in New York. While Haydn's operatic music is appealing, technically accomplished, and diverse, and II Mondo della Luna is considered by Stanley Sadie to contain some of his "freshest and most imaginative operatic music, particularly in its ensembles," the composer is thought to lack dramatic skill, a sense of dramatic timing, or character depiction in music, and tended to choose "inconsequential' libretti" (Sadie 97). This may be because he was writing for a provincial audience rather than a sophisticated city audience. The opera was written to celebrate the wedding of a son of Prince Nicolaus I.

II Mondo della Luna is based on a Carlo Goldoni farce, a popular text set also by Galuppi (1750), Paisiello (1774), and Astarita (1775). Haydn favored dramma giocoso, with its Italian comic stereotypes and grand comic finales, and he set two other plays of Goldoni. The libretto makes fun of scientific research in the Enlightenment and the scene on the moon is a send-up of magical transformation scenes in opera seria.

Director Cal McCrystal, whose specialty in physical humor was demonstrated in Richard Bean's One Man Two Guvnors (which enjoyed Broadway success in 2012) and in Cirque du Soleil, stated on the English Touring Opera (ETO) website that he had never seen a really funny opera, with an audience creasing up, and that he wanted big belly laughs from his production of this opera. With bits of staging and props falling down, characters getting caught up in the set, stage hands peering onto the stage, and Cecco the servant clumsily and continually dropping the legs of the telescope, McCrystal achieved his aim. Yet the production had an eighteenth-century feel with costumes, wigs, statues, and a terraced garden recognizably of the period. As takis the designer stated in the introductory video, they wanted to stick with the period but be playful with it. The conductor, Christopher Bucknall, speaks of Haydns sense of fun and how he loves surprising the audience. The composer who could write a symphony (The Farewell) in which the instruments drop out one by one at the end, apparently as a protest to his patron, would undoubtedly have approved of this production.

As a touring company of a variety of venues in areas without access to opera, sometimes merely concert halls, and all with different acoustics, ETO has to use transportable scenery, lighting, and props, and take account of space for an orchestra. The Old Street Band directed by Christopher Bucknall at the harpsichord, used period instruments, cutting flutes, trumpets, and timpani from Haydns original orchestration. …

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