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DreamStrikes, August 2011

This 2009 production of Haydn’s Il Mondo della Luna for the Theater an der Wien…is a treat for anyone interested in seeing rarely performed opera of quality and distinction, and seeing this particular ‘dramma giocoso’ done playfully and intelligently with respect and understanding for the material.

…the drama and singing are low key, with no grand exhibitions of vocal virtuosity, the performances rather delicate, modest, playful and charming… The staging is modern and just a bit too glittery, but it uses technology well without ever contradicting the libretto or the intentions of the drama. The craft of the staging is impressive, a revolving stage, imaginative props and some minor acrobatics keeping the action fluid and always interesting.



James H. North
Fanfare, May 2011

HAYDN, J.: Mondo della Luna (Il) (Theater an der Wien, 2009) (NTSC) 703508
HAYDN, J.: Mondo della Luna (Il) (Theater an der Wien, 2009) (Blu-ray, HD) 703604

This 1777 opera will surprise listeners who know Haydn through his instrumental works: Its finest quality is not the wit of its comic scenes but the lyrical beauty of its vocal love music. Act I and the first half of act II are mostly farce and tomfoolery, stretched and strained by the extended recitatives and da capo arias. Then come three glorious arias (for Lisetta, Flamina, and Clarice) worthy of Mozart at his finest, each more tender than the last. They are followed by a superb ensemble for the seven principals. Act III—barely over 10 minutes—consists of an equally Mozartian love duet between Ecclitico and Clarice, plus a brief final ensemble. All of this, mind you, five years before Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Multiple versions of Haydn’s score exist; Ernesto is sung here by a contralto rather than a countertenor.

Goldoni’s libretto concerns a swindler (Ecclitico) who cons his mark (Buonafede) into believing he has traveled to the moon, part of a complicated plan to secure permission for his daughters’s marriages. All’s well that ends well, with a joyous moral: “Let’s rejoice at this good fortune. …Let’s live in friendship and love.” The inhabitants of the Moon—who are, of course, crazy people on Earth—are referred to by one and all as “lunatics.” This delicious pun doesn’t work as well in the sung Italian, nor in German or French.

This performance is unbalanced; the women sing well but in stand-and-deliver mode, whereas the merely passable male vocalists are fine actors—even to the point of athletic acrobatics: Bernard Richter leaps fences, Dietrich Henschel skinnies up a pole. To be fair, Christina Landshamer does slither down a knotted-sheets rope. It all works. I’m not fond of Concentus Musicus Wien’s dull strings (period ensembles have come a long way since its founding), but Harnoncourt—on his 80th birthday—keeps things moving along nicely. Doráti’s 1977 stereo recording glitters with stellar soloists: Arleen Augér, Edith Mathis, and Frederica von Stade. I prefer his crisp (modern-instruments) orchestra and his brisk allegros, and the Philips studio sound is clearer than that on this DVD. Yet those arias strike me as spectacular vocal displays more than expressions of their characters’ plights, and the whole as a vocal collection rather than an opera recording.

Costumes and sets don’t contribute much beyond the obvious: Ecclitico wears a leather jacket, Buonafede a modern suit (plus outrageous-pink harem pants in act II); his daughters sport colorful silk tops, the maid (Lisetta) plain cotton. Some physical gimmicks (raising the drugged Buonafede’s lawn chair into the air, on his way to the moon) require an Erector-set of steel towers on stage. The bogus astronomer’s telescope is a computer that displays his associates’ videos of the lunatics. A revolving stage revolves, if only to justify its existence, without noticeably influencing the action. The performance took place at Vienna’s second opera house, Theater an der Wien. Audio (PCM 2.0 stereo or DTS 5.1 surround) and video (“filmed in high definition, mastered from an HD source,” NTSC 16:9) are decent but not exceptional. A 25-minute bonus extends the listed timing. It consists of conventional, poorly edited interviews with director Tobias Moretti and Harnoncourt, but both men deliver some interesting, revealing comments. There are also trailers for four other Unitel video productions: The Ring, Turandot, Handel’s Admeto, and Aida...

One must be patient with Il mondo della luna, as all the goodies come in its final 40 minutes. The first two hours could have been pared down by shortening recitatives and eliminating some da capo repeats, which would make the comedy funnier. That was done, with much success, in a recent live performance in New York. We are prisoners of today’s performance fashion: completeness at all costs. Nevertheless, this is a great improvement over the first commercial Haydn opera DVD: Orlando Paladino.



James Reel
Fanfare, May 2011

HAYDN, J.: Mondo della Luna (Il) (Theater an der Wien, 2009) (NTSC) 703508
HAYDN, J.: Mondo della Luna (Il) (Theater an der Wien, 2009) (Blu-ray, HD) 703604

Lest you suspect that my colleague, Fanfare’s leading Haydn advocate, is exaggerating the merits of Il mondo della luna, let me assure you that Jim North seems exactly on-target with both his praise and his criticism of this Unitel release. He watched the DVDs; my assignment was the Blu-ray version…

So, if you’re interested in this production, should you opt for the Blu-ray if you have that playback capability? I don’t know that it’s absolutely necessary. The “lunar” scenes take place on a rather dark stage where most of the colors of the set items as well as the costumes (aside from those hot pink harem pants) are subdued, so nothing is likely to pop off your screen. On the other hand, the various shades of gray and black are always distinct in the HD version, so although the overall picture is dark, it’s never murky. The DTS-HD 5.0 audio track (that’s how it’s labeled on the Blu-ray, rather than 5.1) is quite lovely, and does a better job of balancing and clarifying the voices and the orchestra than I have often encountered in surround-sound operas. One sign of inattention in the packaging: Although the opera and features are contained on a single Blu-ray disc, the printed track listing restarts the numbering with act II; thus, the first track of that act is labeled “1” while the disc displays “26.” If you want to cue up individual tracks, you’ll have to employ some basic math skills. Indeed, following my colleague’s lead, I would suggest that when you first play this, turn off the video and start with, say, track 50 (the last 20 minutes of act II) and play through to the end of the opera; you’ll hear a straight 30 minutes of some of this work’s most beguiling music, which should then give you the patience to go back and persevere through the work’s less even first couple of hours.




Richard Wigmore
Gramophone, January 2011

HAYDN, J.: Mondo della Luna (Il) (Theater an der Wien, 2009) (NTSC) 703508
HAYDN, J.: Mondo della Luna (Il) (Theater an der Wien, 2009) (Blu-ray, HD) 703604

Haydn’s farce is both piquant and enchanting

After the 1777 premiere, an Esterházy family friend dismissed Il mondo della luna as “Une farce pour la populace et pour les enfants”. Perhaps he was echoing the opera-made Prince Nicolaus’s own view: unusually, it was never revived at Eszterháza. Today, though, Haydn’s lunar fantasy is probably his least neglected opera, with good reason. Others may contain richer music. But Goldoni’s satire on human folly and gullibility, centring on the manipulative “astronomer” Ecclitico and the credulous booby Buonafede, is delightfully absurd, while Haydn’s piquant score meshes perfectly with character and action. Amid the farcical silliness, too, are moments of lyrical enchantment that might surprise the unwary: say, the aria “Se la mia stella” for Flaminia, or the voluptuous nocturnal love duet for Ecclitico and Clarice.

“The piece is extreme, completely insane and very funny,” comments Nikolaus Harnoncourt in a “bonus” interview. With the ever-responsive Concentus Musicus he duly mines the comically disruptive potential of Haydn’s music with unabashed glee, while allowing plenty of space for expressive phrasing and colouring in the opera’s serious moments. The opening of the Act I finale, as the drugged Buonafede imagines himself flying to the moon, has a magical gossamer delicacy. Tobias Moretti’s production, set on a revolving stage, manages a neat balancing act. He updates the action to the age of sci-fi, with assorted technological trickery, while preserving something of the spirit of the 18th-century original, as when Flaminia and Clarice arrive on the “moon” in a flying machine. Crucially, too, Moretti never compromises the moments of stillness—say, the Act 3 love duet—with distracting stage business.

I would wager, too, that Harnoncourt’s youthful-looking singers—all of them convincing actors—measure up well to their 1777 counterparts. The comic leads are ideally cast: Bernard Richter, a spivvish, formidably athletic Ecclitico, Dietrich Henschel presenting an increasingly bemused, even hangdog figure as Buonafede and singing with fine, dark resonance. By the end you even sympathise with the chastened chauvinist, ruthlessly cheated of his daughters and maid. As the two sisters in revolt against paternal tyranny, Christina Landshamer and Anja Nina Bahrmann sing with spirit and feeling, and skilfully negotiate their bouts of coloratura. Of the servant pair, Markus Schäfer is hilarious as the Emperor of the Moon, while Maite Beaumont’rs s lubriciously self-willed Lisetta, looking like a Carmen in a maid’s uniform, understandably reduces the lusting Buonafede to a drooling wreck. Vivica Genaux brings an intense, flavoursome mezzo and a vivid presence to the apparently unpromising castrato role of Ernesto, Flaminia’s lover. In sum, then, an inventive, thoroughly entertaining performance of a zany, sometimes touching comedy. If you’re still sceptical about Haydn’s operas, this may convert you.






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4:30:45 PM, 14 July 2014
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