One of Cincinnati’s brightest musical start ups made a trip to the Moon Saturday night in Norwood Middle School Auditorium.
Led by an ensemble of outstanding voices, Cincinnati Chamber Opera made the trip via Joseph Haydn’s 1777 comic opera, “Il Mondo della Luna,” or “The World on the Moon.”
Haydn, who wrote over a dozen operas, has been overlooked in the operatic repertoire, as opposed to his path-setting instrumental output. (For one thing, he had the towering figure of Mozart to compete with.) “Il Mondo della Luna” is one that has made something of a recovery. It is a charming work with an ahead-of-its time “space travel” theme.
With a solid black curtain for a backdrop, the company had the perfect canvas to work on. Add adept stage direction by Sarah Hutchings and Xi Wang, colorful costumes from the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and some strategic props – a telescope, a screen, a flower-covered arbor, an intricately carved chair, two benches and a pair of potted plants – and everything was in place to help the imagination take flight. English captions (the opera was sung in the original Italian) were provided on a video screen adjoining the stage.
The libretto, by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni, is comic with serious undertones (about the treatment of women). A bogus astrologer Ecclitico boasts to a group of students than he can easily dupe the credulous. Along comes Buonafede, a wealthy, misogynistic old man, whom he invites to look through his telescope at the Moon. The students act out scenarios of women being abused, to his immense delight. Buonafede has two marriageable daughters, Flaminia and Clarice, whom he treats like a despot. Flaminia is in love with a young nobleman Ernesto. Clarice and Ecclitico are also in love, while Ernesto’s servant Cecco loves Buonafede’s servant Lisetta. (Meanwhile, Buonafede has designs on Lisetta,)
Ecclitico hatches a plot to unite all the lovers. He convinces Buonafede that an elixir will transport them both to the Moon. Buonafede drinks it and falls asleep. When he awakens, Ecclitico tells him they are on the Moon (really Ecclitico’s garden). He “arranges” for the women to be transported there also. During the course of their “visit,” the Emperor of the Moon (Cecco in disguise) decrees that Lisetta will become Empress of the Moon, thus removing her from Buonafede’s clutches. He also decrees that the star Hesperus (Ernesto in disguise) will marry Flaminia, and Clarice will marry Ecclitico. In deference to the Emperor, Buonafede consents to all. He is furious when he discovers he has been fooled, but finally agrees to the marriages.
Bringing Haydn’s characters to life were tenors Shawn Mlynek (Cecco/Emperor of the Moon), tenor Rishi Rane (Ecclitico), bass Will Tvrdik (Bunoafede, with a cane and an aching limp), sopranos Molly Hanes (Flaminia), Autumn West (Clarice), and Jilian McGreen (Lisetta) and mezzo-soprano Jill Phillips (in the male/“pants” role of Ernesto/Hesperus). The students were ably sung and acted by tenor Clay Edwards and baritones Grant Parks and Andrew Whelan.
The singers were accompanied by violinists Boyoung Wang and Luke Coan, cellist Jennifer Higgins Wagner, bassist Joe Bauer and pianist Valerie Pool. It was a precise and fitting collaboration, expertly led by conductor Michael Wheatley.
Highlights were many:
· Ecclitico and Bunoafede’s exchanges and the students’ antics as Buonafede peers through the telescope in act I
· Bunoafede’s gleeful aria as he describes having seen men mistreating women on the Moon (La ragazza col vecchione)
· Cecco’s aria about gullible people (Mi fanno ridere quelli che credono)
· Flaminia’s aria asserting the primacy of love over reason (Ragion nell’aima siede)
· Clarice’s feisty aria rebuking her father (Son fanciulla da marito)
the entrance of the Emperor of the Moon and his attendants in act II, bouncing on big
· the Emperor dismissing the ways of people on Earth (Un avaro suda e pena)
· Hesperus’ aria describing life on the Moon, where women are subservient (Voi lo sapete)
· Lisetta’s incredulous, but joyful aria when she is declared Empress of the Moon (Se lo commanda, ci venirò)
· the ruckus at the end of act II where the everyone except Bunoafede starts speaking “moon language,” the better to confuse him as to what is actually going on
· Ecclitico and Clarice’s duet asserting their love in act III (Un certo ruscelletto)
One looks forward with anticipation to Cincinnati Chamber Opera’s next production, “L’Orfeo” by Claudio Monteverdi, to be presented in conjunction with the Cincinnati Early Music Festival in February.
Cincinnati Chamber Opera was founded in 2012 by Mlynek and West. For further information, visit www.cincinnatichamberopera.com