It was Confucius, no doubt, who first articulated the secret of artistic success: “You’ve got to have a gimmick.” Neal Goren, feisty founder of the Gotham Chamber Opera, proved the point on Tuesday. He chose to exhume Haydn’s Il mondo della luna, a dramma giocoso much celebrated in history books but seldom staged since its 1777 premiere. But the Manhattan maestro didn’t want to play out the rituals in an ordinary theatre. He wanted something more exotic and, not incidentally, more newsworthy.
So he persuaded the management at the Hayden Planetarium of the Museum of Natural History to host the intimate show, and he borrowed a dazzling series of starry videos to splash across its 180-degree dome. He also coaxed Diane Paulus, mastermind behind the current revival of Hair, to make this world on the moon pertinent.
The result, which plays until January 28, is beguiling, clever, cutesy-cheery and, in some ways, annoying. The Goldoni libretto involves a miser who, after drinking a “magic potion”, thinks he has been transported to a lunar paradise. There, the loon is tricked into marrying off his daughters to suitors previously deemed unworthy. Unfortunately, the science-nonfiction vistas introduce a spacey aura of psychedelia to the plot formulas. Adding a degree of awkwardness, the cast is constantly required to sing, clamber and emote on cumbersome rolling ladders. Occasionally this makes it difficult to concentrate on the glorious music.
Goren conducts a stylish band of 25 stationed on a platform above the inaction. He reveals obvious love of the score, though he has cut well over an hour of what he labels “chaff”. Outstanding in the well-matched ensemble are Albina Shagimuratova, a fiery coloratura; Hanan Alattar, a sweet lyric-soprano; Nicholas Coppolo, a crafty tenor; and Marco Nisticò, a neat baritonal buffo. Everyone works hard, sometimes successfully, to make Haydn triumph at the Hayden.