Franz Joseph Haydn composed Il mondo della luna, based on a libretto of renowned Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni, in 1777, on the occasion of a wedding in his Esterházy patron's family. The story is typical of Goldoni in its merciless satire on the rising middle class, their ambitions and weaknesses... but it’s really as silly as they come. A self-taught astronomer, the elderly Bonafede, is duped by a fake astronomer, Eclittico, into believing that there are people living on the Moon, who can be observed through his “telescope”. The objective of the ruse is the old man's money and his consent for the marriage of his daughters, Clarice and Flaminia, to Eclittico and the nobleman Ernesto.

Saveliy Andreev (Ernesto) and Ilya Altukhov (Bonafede)
© Herwig Prammer

In the plot there are several cynical and dark themes: the old man bullishly lusts after his servant, Lisetta, who tries to extort money from him, while she’s in love with Cecco, another servant. When Bonafede looks through the “telescope”, he sees on the Moon a world he likes very much: young girls available to old men, wives beaten by their husbands, loving girlfriends mocked and ridiculed by their lovers.

Director Tomo Sugao emphasises the cynical, almost sinister aspects in his transposition of the action to a retirement home in the present day. Bonafede is a patient, while Lisetta, Cecco and Ernesto work there as nurses. The staff mistreat the old guests, pumping them full of drugs, which they also enjoy themselves; Bonafede aggressively harasses Lisetta; Clarice and Flaminia cannot wait for their father to die so they’ll be free to marry. Eclittico, a conman, pretends to be a doctor to gain access to Bonafede’s money: he shows him the world on the Moon through virtual-reality goggles and, after a magic potion (LSD), Bonafede is transported to the Moon, which is really the same retirement home, adorned as a psychedelic dream in the 60s of his youth. The “Emperor of the Moon” is Cecco, dressed as an Oriental guru; everybody is smoking joints or bongs and speaking a made-up language.

Leonardo Sánchez (Ecclitico) and Chelsea Zurflüh (Clarice)
© Herwig Prammer

The cynicism in the plot was pushed to the extreme as the two pairs of lovers “wooed” while each was solipsistically wearing virtual-reality goggles, hugging and kissing whoever happened to be around. In the final scene, instead of a happy ending with three weddings blessed by a mortified Bonafede, we had six young lovers, each completely lost in their own virtual reality, unaware of the others, while Bonafede dies alone.

The idea is good and was well executed, the 60s costumes (Michaela Barth) were hilarious, and the young cast was committed and effective in their acting this bizarre concept. It was, however, a very noisy production. Things were constantly (and inopportunely) thrown around and smashed, the singers were moaning, screaming, laughing, and sneezing when they weren’t busy singing; in the long run this became tedious and interfered with the enjoyment of the music. 

Ilya Altukhov (Bonafede) and Freya Apffelstaedt (Lisetta)
© Herwig Prammer

Joseph Bastian led the Musikkollegium Winterthur in a very lively performance, perhaps too lively at times, but exciting and enjoyable. The cast comprised young members of the International Opera Studio at the Opernhaus Zürich, and was overall extremely good. Manuscripts of the score exist with different voice types for different parts (depending on the singers available to Haydn); this version was unusually presented with three tenors and one bass in the male roles. Of the three tenors the one who stood out was Luis Magallanes as Cecco, who had a knee injury and sang from the pit, while Pascal Pointet, part of the production team, acted the role. Magallanes’ tenor was strong, secure on the high notes and beautifully projected. Pointet was very effective in his portrayal on stage, at times mouthing the words for a very convincing effect. Ernesto was Saveliy Andreev, whose tenor was lighter and also a bit less projected, albeit very graceful and well supported. Eclittico was Leonardo Sánchez, another strong, enthusiastic tenor voice, again with a very solid technical support; his performance on stage tended to suffer from some over-acting, perhaps a directorial choice. Ilya Altukhov, as Bonafede, was very convincing as the old man (the make-up was remarkable), his bass-baritone smooth and stylish.

Leonardo Sánchez (Ecclitico) and Ilya Altukhov (Bonafede)
© Herwig Prammer

Among the women, Ziyi Dai gave a wonderful performance as Flaminia, showing splendid, silvery high notes, secure coloratura and remarkable breathing technique; she definitely won the applause-o-meter. Chelsea Zurflüh sang Clarice with a soprano rooted in a strong middle voice, her tone golden and bronzed, another singer with impressive breathing. The two of them would be a fantastic pair Fiordiligi-Dorabella, methinks. Freya Apffelstaedt convinced as Lisetta, her alto warm and deep, her high notes beautiful and solid. All singers were extremely committed and engaged, which resulted in a joyful, successful performance, a true confirmation of the International Opera Studio’s rewarding work.