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Haydn Il mondo della luna
Royal Academy Opera, London 25 November 2003

Haydn is a "problem", especially so his operas, which most companies avoid. The Royal Academy went for his moon travel fantasy (a topic which also appealed to Janacek who sent his Mr Broucek there) as offering an appeal to students and the best opportunity for inventive staging, put together by Robert Chevara, Emma Cottell and their production team with a charming naievety and gentle wit. There is a riot of over-the top costumes (literally so the wigs!).

The plot is driven by Kevin Kyle as 'a fake astrologer' - so what is a real one? - who conspires to dupe a 'gullible strict father' (Robert Winslade Anderson). With a rich, fruity baritone, the comprehensively deceived Buonafede, chastened upon his return from a simulated 'moon', which he had enjoyed with the aid of liberal alcohol, has lost his daughters and the servant he fancied, all bespoke to their respective suitors. He accepts the fait accompli with good grace and becomes as benign as Verdi's horned Falstaff after he is comprehensively thwarted.

The singing of this second cast was adequate at least. at first the men were better; the women's voices settled as the house warmed (temperature and audience response) towards the splendid extended finale of linked duets, trios and ensembles with which Act 2 culminates. The invention and scoring is often (not always) vintage Haydn, and the singers were well supported by the Royal Academy Sinfonia, with conductor Ian Ledingham providing a lively, busy continuo support at the harpsichord.

Anthony Legge, Director of Opera at the Academy, made surtitles for this production of Il mondo della luna (the original Philips translations are strangely elusive and seem to be unavailable despite the most strenuous enquiries) and these were projected, high up and tantalisingly late in their arrival - rather like those uncomfortable gaps on TV News whilst questions wing their way by satellite to reach the ears of correspondents abroad.

I hope Royal Academy Opera, or another of the college opera departments, will follow up this welcome and successful airing of Il mondo della luna with another of Haydn's interestingly varied operas, a rich quarry if you can restrain yourself from making direct comparisons with Mozart.

Enforced idleness recently with a broken leg had provided an opportunity to listen to eight Haydn operas in Antal Dorati's landmark recordings, re-issued sadly without texts or translations from the Italian. The importance of the words was made clear by resorting to the marvellously comprehensive insert notes supplied with the only one I have on original LPs.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Kevin Kyle (Ecclitico) and Robert Anderson (Buonafede)
photo: Jonathan Dockar-Drysdale

Haydn – La fedelta premiata

For the 2009 Haydn tricentenary RAM has mounted La Fedelta premiata to, once again, "mixed reviews" which seems to be the fate of Haydn as operatic composer !

Opinion was divided, but not by age. Two of the most positive reviewers were by Andrew Porter in The Times Literary Supplement and Geraint Lewis (Gramophone) - neither of those being internet publications.

I saw the first cast and loved it all, taking in my stride the updating to the contemporary world of TV's "reality" Big Brother show...

Although sight is said to take primacy over hearing, with Trevor Pinnock's superb advocacy of this fine score and the expert and responsive RAM orchestra, there was no risk of that in Alessandro Talevi's adaptation of the action, even though some of the allusions passed by "RAM's octogenarian supporters" ! (The Times).

The cast was mostly good to excellent, the singers were personable to watch and well managed on stage, the small chorus made a fine effect from the back of the auditorium, and the surtitled English adaptation of the libretto (efficiently projected - in contrast with those for Il mondo della luna) was just sufficient to keep us on the rails.

The Times reflected our singing specialist's response to the show, below; Fiona Maddocks in The Observer most closely accorded with mine. [Editor

Royal Academy Opera

La Fedelta Premiata (9 March; 2nd cast)

Conductor  – Iain Ledingham

Director – Alessandro Talevi


Amaranta – Meeta Raval

Nerina – Caroline MacPhie

Celia – Fu Quian

Diana – Natalia Brezinska

Lindoro _ Lei Shao

Fileno – Thomas Hobbs

Perrucchetto – Gerard Collett

Melibeo – George Humphreys



It is generally agreed that opera was not Joseph Haydn’s strongest suit, nevertheless there is a good deal to be admired in the beauty of his orchestral craftsmanship and his ability to build up a sequence of ensembles to crown each act.


A few years ago RAO staged his Il mondo della luna, directed by Robert Chevara, which proved an event of considerable charm and wit with, as described by Robert Thickness writing for The Times “a proper Haydnesque feel-good glow”. 


For La fedelta premiata director Alessandro Talevi abandoned the intended pastoral setting inhabited by nymphs and shepherds, beasts of the forest, satyrs and a sea monster, to replace them with a “Big Brother” house where the threats came from Russell Brand look-alikes, cardboard effigies of Margaret Thatcher and Ann Widdecombe (these two at least drew the only discernible laughter of the evening) and a couple of remote controlled spiders.   In taking this approach it must certainly be acknowledged that he achieved a result that was every bit as tasteless as the TV show he was mirroring.


As the evening progressed I found myself increasingly inclined to follow the advice of Geoff Brown, also writing for The Times, to shut my eyes to the action and concentrate on the high quality singing and orchestral playing. 


The incisive soprano of Meeta Raval contrasted well with the lighter voice of Caroline MacPhie and the strong and very distinctive mezzo of Fu Quian.  The richness of Gerard Collett’s baritone (standing in for Vytautas Vepstas), George Humphreys, singing with perhaps the best sense of period style, Thomas Hobbs with a tenor of significant promise that I look forward to hearing again, and some pleasantly lyrical moments from Lei Shao were all a pleasure to hear. 


The orchestra was in the safest of hands with Iain Ledingham on the rostrum.  An evening of musical delight accompanied by a staging that seemed both irrelevant and uninteresting.


Serena Fenwick


 Photo credit Mark Whitehouse





© Peter Grahame Woolf