Rare Haydn Opera Performed in Bilbao

SpainSpain Haydn: Il Mondo della Luna, Navarra’s Symphony Orchestra, Rossini Chorus, Jesús López Cobos (conductor), Bilbao’s Teatro Arriaga. 16.5.2013 (JMI)

New Production Teatro Arriaga in co-production with Opera Montecarlo
Buonafede: Carlos Chausson
Lisetta: Maite Beaumont
Ecclitico: Tiberius Simu
Ernesto: Manuela Custer
Clarice: Arantza Ezenarro
Flaminia: Silvia Vázquez
Cecco: Manuel De Diego

Direction: Emilio Sagi
Sets: Daniel Bianco
Costumes: Pepa Ojanguren
Lighting: Albert Faura
Choreography: Nuria Castejón

Haydn is considered to be the father of the symphony, and his catalog of compositions in this field is truly impressive. But he also wrote operas, some of which are revived from time to time while many others have been forgotten. Il Mondo della Luna is a drama giocoso according to the composer, but it could be considered, pure and simple, as an opera buffa. It is one of the fourteen operas that Haydn composed in the Eszterhazy court and had its premiere in 1777. Il Mondo della Luna has been performed a few times in recent years, mostly by small opera companies, although Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducted it in December 2009 at the Theater an der Wien. Nine years ago Bilbao’s Teatro Arriaga presented it for the first time with a group of young singers, and now they’ve offered the opera in a grander way. It is the fourth Haydn opera the Teatro Arriaga has staged in the last five years.

Emilio Sagi is a prolific stage director and two of his productions are being done now in Bilbao, the Haydn and La Bohème at Opera ABAO. Light operas performed as modern musicals are precisely the field in which Emilio Sagi is at his best, but what a difference of imagination between his work on Il Mondo della Luna and on La Bohème!

Sagi delights us here with colorful stage work, fun and full of life. The entire second half of the opera (the world of the moon, of course) works as a musical, with a grand staircase, dancers and the transformation of the members of the choir into chorus boys. The singers seem to enjoy themselves on stage, a feeling easily passed along to the audience.

In the first scene the above-mentioned staircase is crowned by a terrace where we find the so-called Ecclitico’s telescope. In the second scene we move into a modern kitchen at Buonafede’s house. The colorful costumes present Buonafede’s daughters and his servant as punk girls. The choreography is attractive with a fine collaboration between the singers and the choir of just eight boys.

Jesús López Cobos’s conducting showed excellent control and lent a necessary freshness to the score. The orchestra was not brilliant but was quite serviceable. This is the first time that López Cobos has conducted opera in Bilbao and I suspect it will not be the last, even if from other opera pits in the city.

The protagonist of the opera is Buonafede, an old dreamer who is made to believe he has been relocated to the moon. I have always considered Carlos Chausson to be one of the best buffo basses and he has again proved it. His comic mien is superb, as is his diction. Any theater that considers staging this opera should be calling on him.

Maite Beamont was Lisetta, Buonafede’s servant, and she gave a remarkable performance. Her voice is attractive and she is a good actress as well. An excellent choice.

Romanian tenor Tiberius Simu was Ecclitico, acceptable on stage but limited vocally. A light tenor without top notes is more a problem than a solution. Mezzo soprano Manuela Custer gave a proper interpretation of Ernesto, but has a rather small voice.

Buonafede’s daughters were played by sopranos Arantza Ezenarro (Clarice), who was a good interpreter, and Silvia Vázquez (Flaminia), who is becoming a pure soubrette. Her evolution is rather curious. Finally, tenor Manuel De Diego was good as Cecco though a little tight at the top.

Attendance at the Teatro Arriaga was around 90% of capacity. The audience was enthusiastic during the performance and cheered at the final bows, particularly for Carlos Chausson, Jesús López Cobos and Emilio Sagi.

José Mª. Irurzun