Franz Joseph Haydn - Il Mondo della Luna
L'Opéra de Monte-Carlo, 2014
Jérémie Rhorer, Emilio Sagi, Philippe Do, Giuseppina Bridelli, Roberto De Candia, Hélène Le Corre, Alessandra Marianelli, Annalisa Stroppa, Mathias Vidal
Culturebox - 25 March 2014
Haydn's Il Mondo della Luna is, like many of the composer's elegant comic opera works, deceptively light and simple. Based on a libretto written by Carlo Goldoni in 1750 for Baldassare Galuppi (one of the earliest innovators of the comic opera), there is however a certain amount of satire in the work on the credulity of men, who are particularly gullible when they are being told something they want to hear.
When you listen to Il Mondo della Luna, you similarly hear what you want to hear and the first thing you are likely to notice is that it is the most elegant music, beautifully arranged and delicately played. Considering the nature of the subject however should there not also be a little more of an edge to the music? When it comes to the subject of the complicated relations between men and women, Il Mondo della Luna is no Marriage of Figaro or Così Fan Tutte, and - as the composer himself was literally the first to admit - Haydn is no Mozart. II Mondo della Luna is no Die Zauberflöte either, but there is surely a deeper message here behind the comedy.
Written by Haydn for the Austro-Hungarian Eszterhàzy royal court in his capacity as court composer, the purpose of Il Mondo della Luna undoubtedly is primarily to entertain and not cause its audience too much confusion over the tone or intent. That doesn't mean that a modern production of the work has to be gentle and reverential. Nikolaus Harnoncourt demonstrated a perfect balance and understanding of the differences between Mozart and Haydn in the Theater an der Wien's delightful 2009 production, but there's a slight sense that the work is played rather too nicely without capturing the distinctive qualities of Haydn in this 2014 Opéra de Monte-Carlo production.
At the very least however, the stage production directed by Emilio Sagi is stylish, colourful and eye-catching and not buried in antiquated period mannerisms. There's a good rationale for this since the work is almost science-fictional in nature, involving a trip to the moon, or at least, what is supposed to look like a trip to the moon, but that depends on how gullible you are and how much opium you've taken. Such a poor fool is Buonafede, who has been duped by Ecclitico, a confidence trickster who has fed him manufactured images and ideas that appeal to his prejudices and, well, his sexual inclinations.
Buonafede would like to believe that life on the moon is the opposite of how it is lived on Earth. On the moon, it's actually women who are dominant, since they have a closer relationship with Earth's satellite and, as such, can they even be described literally as lunatics. This appeals to Buonafede, who is unaware that it confirms his impressions of the reality on Earth. It is indeed women who call the shots in Il Mondo della Luna, and three of them - Buonafede's two daughters Clarice and Flaminia and his maid Lisetta who has ideas above her station - are rather strong personalities indeed. You can see how Buonafede would be somewhat browbeaten and long to escape to a place where he is treated better. Ecclitico's scheme is to turn this to his advantage, since he and his associates have designs on marrying the women that Buonafede keeps safely locked away.
Haydn's handling of the dramma giocoso is fairly conventional, but delightful all the same, the situations providing each of the characters and singers with the opportunity to express their feelings in pleasant little arias. There's nothing too testing here, but it requires a certain lightness of touch, clarity of diction and fluidity of expression with some facility for coloratura. There's nothing as challenging or as ambitious as Mozart in this register, but Haydn is a good testing ground for young singers. Based on the subsequent careers of those in the Harnonourt production (Bernard Richter, Vivica Genaux), and perhaps reflecting where Haydn's musical affinities really lie, those careers more often seem to be in the Baroque field rather than in Mozart operas.
This is perfect ground for Jérémie Rhorer, who directs the music at Monte Carlo here with a precision and lightness of touch that matches the early operas of the young Mozart. It's a little too nice and unadventurous though, and it doesn't quite have the same edge that Harnoncourt brought to the work (although admittedly that recollection might not be a reliable one, since I haven't heard the 2009 version in quite a while). The singing likewise meets all the requirements, but there's little here that really stands out. Roberto De Candia sings well and is a solid Buonafede, Alessandra Marianelli impresses as Flaminia and Hélène Le Corre sings well as Clarice, but there's little that stands out as exceptional. Mathias Vidal does actually bring a little more over-the-top dynamic to the performances, but it's a little out of step with the overall tone.
The stage direction, while bold and colourful, doesn't really provide the opportunity to develop or explore the work with a little more adventurousness. Life on the moon, for some unknown reason, seems to be a cabaret, with multi-coloured poles flanking a long staircase, with exotic dancers in glittery costumes and bowler hats, and a glitterball finale. I'm not sure about life being a cabaret, but in a work that does propose variety being the spice of life, there needs to be a little more dynamic in showing the contrasts between what men want and what women want, and this production at Monte Carlo is just a little too smooth and pleasant to really give us that.