Il mondo della luna (The World on the Moon)
nytheatre.com review by Daniel John Kelley
January 19, 2010
Put down your 3D glasses, and pick up your 18th century period instruments, because we are going to the moon.
The Gotham Chamber Opera, in association with the American Museum of Natural History and NASA, are currently presenting Joseph Haydn's sci-fi opera Il mondo della luna (The World on the Moon) at the Hayden Planetarium. Yes, you heard right. Opera in the planetarium. Welcome to the new decade.
Still here? Why? Did I mention opera in the planetarium? All right, I'll get to the story, if I must: Set in the 18th century, Il mondo della luna tells the tale of the sly youth Ecclitico, who tricks the wealthy nobleman Buonafede into believing he's an astronomer with knowledge of a secret world on the moon. What Ecclitico is really after, however, is more earthly. Ecclitico, along with his buddies Ernesto and Cecco, love the fair ladies of the household—Buonafede's daughters Flaminia and Clarice, and his servant, Lisetta. Naturally, Buonafede is firmly resolved never to consent to their love. Thus, the three friends devise a plan to trick Buonafede into believing that he has actually been transported to the moon, and in doing so, find a way to win their loves from him. Sound simple? It is. But that's really okay. Much like the mega blockbuster Avatar, the purpose of this opera lies not in its story or characters. It's all about the spectacle. And, boy howdy, what a spectacle it is.
Director Diane Paulus has created a psychedelic universe, where ruffled collars meet go-go boots meet NASA spacesuits and glow-in-the-dark hula-hoop jugglers. Paulus does a great job of using every inch of the narrow playing space in the planetarium, making room for both a nobleman's household and the surface of the moon. Anka Lupes's elaborate and intricate costumes are spot-on in creating both the courtly world of earth, and the out-of-this world feel of the lunar court.
What really makes the show soar, however, is the planetarium itself. From constellations spanning across the sky, to balls of gas hurtling towards you, to wormholes that make you feel like you're being transported to another galaxy, Philip Bussman's video production and design takes full advantage of the opera's demand for a world of wonder. At the end one aria, as Buonafede sings of the wonders of the moon world and the audience is pulled through a wormhole, one of my friends sighed. "Aww," she said. She was sorry it was over. Like it was Star Tours at Disneyland. Except it was OPERA. How often does that happen? And more importantly, shouldn't it happen more often?
Haydn's score—trimmed to an easy-to-swallow 90 minutes—is briskly conducted by Neal Goren, and played vigorously by the strong chamber ensemble. The singers too are uniformly solid musically, even if they are plagued with some bits of unfortunate choreography. Standouts include Marco Nistico as an appropriately blustery Buonafede and Hanan Alattar, who assays some of the more difficult music of the piece with aplomb.
All in all, Il mondo della luna is a fantastic and fantastical evening at the opera that's sure to appeal to lovers of opera, science, theatre, and all the people who went to see Avatar (who's that? Oh right. AMERICA.). So if you belong to any of those groups, I'd strongly recommend paying a few extra dollars, getting yourself up to the planetarium, and seeing some Haydn at the Hayden. What more could you ask for? Space camp? They don't play music like this at space camp. But they should.