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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Opera Review: Haydn at the Hayden

Gotham Chamber Opera sets an opera in a Planetarium.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Sheer Luna-cy: Buonafede (Marcelo Nisticò) on the moon.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2010 Gotham Chamber Opera.

The Gotham Chamber Opera's extraordinary decision to stage Haydn's little-heard Il Mondo della Luna ("The World On the Moon") is a treat for anyone who likes 18th-century operatic comedies. That director Diane Paulus chose to stage the opera within the dome of the Hayden Planetarium (and make use of its superb projection facilities) is nothing short of inspired. Neal Goren conducted an incisive, warm performance. He trimmied about a fourth of Haydn's score, shaving the three-act opera down to one 90-minue act in two parts.


The cast was anchored by Metropolitan Opera veteran Marcelo Nisticò. He made the most of the role's comic opportunities as Buonafede, the miserly old nobleman who is hoodwinked into taking an imaginary trip to the moon, where he gives his blessing to marry off the opera's three pairs of lovers, while proving it is possible to sing and act convincingly while wearing a full NASA-issue space suit.

Tenor Nicholas Coppolo had a breakout performance as Ecclitico, the trickster who sets the opera's lunatic plot in action. He has an agile, light tenor and is a good comic actor. As Cecco, the humble servant who suddenly finds himself King of the Moon in Buonafede's delusion, Matthew Tuell combined a pleasing voice and strong acting. Baritone Timothy Kuhn was also very funny as Ernesto, making the most of his Act I aria.

Of the three female leads, Rachel Calloway impressed the most as the sexy maid Lisetta. Her sweeping mezzo-soprano was ideally suited to seduction, whether manipulating old Buonafede or having a sensual moment with Cecco. Their Act I duet recalled that other "lunar" opera, Verdi's Falstaff. Soprano Hannan Alatar had the most difficult music to sing in as Clarice, and she scaled the dizzying heights of the role with pin-point accuracy. However, her voice had an unwelcome touch of metal in it.
Albina Shagimuratova also sang well as Flaminia, but her role was considerably shortened.

Throughout the evening, the spectacular effects appearing above the actors worked well with Haydn's opera and Goldoni's clever libretto. The old Zeiss Universarium (the projector used at the original Planetarium) provided "retro" images in the first act. The more modern, immersive ceiling system for the second act on the Moon.

The lunar setting was evoked through the clever use of light-up costumes inspired by cyber-punk and Barbarella. Clipped-on book lights illuminated the actors. Finally, Marcelo Nisticò proved that it is possible to sing and act convincingly while wearing a full NASA-style space suit.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.