Il mondo della luna
Ecclitico Kevin Kyle
Ernesto Joakim Schuster
Buonafede Robert Winslade Anderson
Clarice Jane Harrington
Flaminia Lucy Crowe
Lisetta Julia Riley
Cecco Andrew Clarke
Robert Chevara director
Emma Cattell designer
Royal Academy Sinfonia
Iain Ledingham (harpsichord)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 21 November, 2003
Venue: Sir Jack Lyons Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London
The resurgence of interest in opera between Monteverdi and Mozart over the last three decades has enabled a much truer perspective on Haydn’s contribution than previously possible. True, his sizeable corpus of dramatic works was dictated largely by the requirements of the Esterházy court than by a devotion to the genre, but the old adage that Haydn abandoned opera out of comparison with Mozart is borne out neither by the facts, nor by the dramatic instinct evinced by La fedeltà premiata, Armida or the late L’amina del filosofo. Although Il mondo della luna (1777) is not their equal, its stage-worthiness is vindicated in a production as sympathetic as that by Royal Academy Opera.
The libretto is a typical Carlo Goldoni concoction, taking in elements of farce and a humour bordering (appropriately, given the context) on the surreal, in order to convey the desirability of reasoned free-thinking as opposed to unthinking conformism. Astrologer manqué Ecclitico dupes man of property Buonafede into believing he has travelled to the moon; the radical protocol there seeing him agree to the marriage of his daughters Clarice and Flaminia respectively to Ecclitico and gentleman Ernesto, whose valet Cecco duly secures the hand of Buonofede’s maid Lisetta. Such is the plot underlying the two-and-a-half hours of Haydn’s opera – which consists of the customary assemblage of arias and ensembles, interspersed with recitative to keep events on track. Musically, the work might reasonably be described as consistently second-rate; Haydn maintaining a relaxed, even affectionate pace – bringing out the humour of Goldoni’s text without the need to point up social observations in the way that Da Ponte was to do so brilliantly for Mozart during the next decade.
What the music does do is to give the singers every chance to demonstrate vocal prowess singly and collectively; opportunities seized on gratefully by this cast. While there were no overtly weak links, the light-toned lyricism of Joakim Schuster and superbly detailed articulation of Lucy Crowe stood out. Kevin Kyle was engaging as the scheming but sympathetic Ecclitico, while Robert Winslade Anderson found a degree of wounded nobility in Buonafede to prevent him seeming a total buffoon. Julia Riley’s coquettish Lisetta frequently stole the show in terms of vocal acting. Utilising a period setting, its degree of affectation would not be out of place in a production of Amadeus, Robert Chevara brought off some scintillating coups de théâtre; notably the ’life on the moon’ episode which persuades Buonafede to make his journey, and the pantomimic quality of events on landing – not least Andrew Clarke’s ’souped-up’ Emperor of the Moon. Iain Ledingham conducted the Royal Academy Sinfonia – woodwind playing a constant delight – with style and verve, while his crisp harpsichord work rescued recitative passages from overt dryness.
Not, then, an opera which presents Haydn as a blazing dramatist, but one which confirms his sense of the theatre to be undoubted. Catch one of the remaining two performances if you can, on 24 and 25 November, and enjoy.
- Il mondo della luna – Royal Academy of Music until 25 November at 7 p.m. – 020 7873 7300
- Royal Academy of Music