In a Galaxy far away!
Joseph Haydn: Il mondo della luna

The moon

The moon

We all know that the first successful manned landing on the moon occurred on 20 July 1969, when Apollo 11 delivered Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of Earth’s lone satellite. The first robotic moon landing happened a decade earlier and was achieved by the Soviet Union in 1959. But do you know when the first musical exploration of the lunar surface took place? It all started when the Venetian playwright and librettist Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni collaborated with the composer Baldassare Galuppi on a comic opera entitled Il mondo della luna (The World on the Moon).

Il mondo della luna
First performed during carnival season in Venice in 1750, Goldini’s play ingeniously mixed wit and honesty, dramatizing the lives, values, and conflicts of the emerging middle classes. The storyline tells of Ecclitico pursuing the lovely Clarice, while Ernesto loves her sister Flaminia. However, Buonafede, an amateur astronomer and father of the two young ladies in question is strictly opposed to these unions. In addition, Buonafede is growing suspicious of his servant Cecco, who is showing growing affection towards the chambermaid Lisetta. Reason being, he has his own designs on her. However, the young lovers quickly find a way to trick the moon-struck Buonafede into believing that he has been transported to the moon! At the beginning of Act 2, Ecclitico’s garden is decorated to convince Buonafede that he has landed on the lunar surface. He is first entertained by a ballet and eventually meets the Emperor of the Moon — the disguised servant Cecco — who proposes to crown Lisetta as his Empress. Amidst much confusion and hubbub, the journey of discovery into outer space merges with the joys of love, and all ends with a triple wedding.



Given the instant appeal of this sci-fi topic, three more musical settings — which we might call robotic musical explorations of the play — followed in quick succession. But the project really took off when Joseph Haydn got his hands on the story in 1777. Haydn immediately recognized the potential of the play to serve the wedding celebration of Count Nikolaus Esterházy, younger son of Haydn’s patron Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, with Countess Maria Anna Wissenwolf. The wedding was held at the lavish Esterházy Estate in Hungary on 3 August 1777, and Haydn’s opera was duly performed. Apparently, the opera did not elicit a favorable opinion, as an Esterházy family friend dismissed the work as “Une farce pour la populace et pour les enfants;” it was never again staged at Eszterháza. Haydn’s delightful musical evocation of the surface of the moon features fragrant flowers and lush woodlands, and everything moon-related is scored in the key of E-flat major. This includes the highly evocative music depicting the actual flight to the moon, and the birdsong and lyrical enchantments that enliven the lunar surface. Haydn uniquely created a work that focused on human longings in a science fiction environment. Always the practical musician, since Haydn could not get the opera restaged, he simply reused the overture as the first movement of his Symphony No. 63, and Ernesto’s aria, “Qualche volta non fa male,” as the “Benedictus” of his Mariazell Mass. Warp 5, Mr. Haydn!!!

Galuppi : Il mondo della Luna (The World on the Moon)

Joseph Haydn: Il mondo della luna (The World on the Moon)

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