If it’s science fiction special effects you’re after, then you ought to have caught Haydn at the Hayden: Il Mondo della Luna (The World on the Moon) presented in January at the Hayden Planetarium in a short run by the Gotham Chamber Opera. There, at the spectacularly remodeled facility adjoining the Museum of Natural History (which some of us haven’t visited since elementary school). Haydn’s 1777 comic opera was given amidst the glittering constellations and Phillip Bussmann’s other more fanciful, exotic images projected on the dome.
Seldom has an opera production been so perfectly situated. To make the effect even more flittering, an exhibit of magnificent NASA photographs of the actual lunar surface stopped patrons, making them ooh and aah in wonder on entering and leaving the planetarium.
In the libretto by Carlo Coldoni, the famous dramatist (who didn’t even merit a program credit), some crafty and lusty Italians drug a nasty and impressionable nobleman into thinking he has taken a trip to the moon. There, disguised as moon men, they determine to marry the daughters and a servant that he has under his thumb.
The opera’s lunar landscape was populated by exotic and cleverly lit outfits by costume designer Anka Lupes and acrobats with illuminated hoops. To accommodate the seating plan that guides the eyes generally upward, a platform was erected, surrounded by movable chrome library ladders for the characters to climb on. The orchestra was perched even higher and sounded exceptionally fine under the baton of Neal Goren.
Haydn had not quite the success Mozart did in writing eternally popular operas. Goren skillfully cut quite a bit of what he terms “chaff” from the score—an excellent idea, as I remember being fairly bored at a more complete German production of this opera a few years ago. What was left was an amusing, comparatively brief (100 minutes) set of comic arias and ensembles, sung by a set of youngish performers who sometimes had to struggle to be heard in the challenging space. The opera was given in Italian with English titles projected on the hemisphere.
The two daughters came off best, Hanan Alatter (Clarice), and Albina Shagimuratova (Flaminia). The trio they had with Rachel Calloway (the maid, Lisetta) was staged to be a real showstopper, complete with disco gyrations in Mamma Mia style. This kind of post-modernism—from Diane Paulus, the director of the current Broadway production of Hair—I found enjoyable: it worked in its silly, inoffensive way. The men sang and acted well, especially tenors Nicholas Coppolo as the fake astronomer and Matthew Tuell as the valet. Everyone contributed brightly to the long, impressive finale, which showed Haydn at his most attractive and touching.
The entire production was stylishly done, right down to the graphics in the poster and program. I look forward to future ventures—wherever they may be—but I doubt the logo credits next time will include one for NASA!