Goldoni: Il mondo della luna

Program Note

Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793)
Il mondo della luna (The World of the Moon)

The first successful robotic moon landing occurred in 1959, followed ten years later by the first successful manned landing on the moon.  But the first musical exploration of the lunar surface took place nearly two hundred years prior with the collaboration between librettist Carlo Goldoni and composer Baldassare Galuppi on the comic opera Il mondo della luna.  First performed in Venice in 1750, 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.  Additionally, Buonafede is growing suspicious of his servant Cecco, who is showing affection towards the chambermaid Lisetta, because Buonafede has his own designs on her.  However, the young lovers quickly find a way to trick the moonstruck Buonafede into believing he has been transported to the moon.  At the beginning of Act II, Ecclitio’s garden is decorated to convince Buonafede that he has landed on the lunar surface. 

Joseph Haydn came across Goldoni’s libretto 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.  Haydn’s musical evocation of the moon surface features fragrant flowers and lush woodlands, and even includes highly evocative music depicting the actual flight to the moon.

Born to a prosperous middle-class family, Carlo Goldoni displayed a theatrical inclination from early childhood. As a university student, he often put aside his law books to attend performances.  Until Goldoni, the prevailing commedia dell'arte style depended upon actors who improvised their roles from a list of stock characters. Therefore, drama revolved about the actors and the success with which their talents impressed the audience. Goldoni's works signaled a new direction in which primacy was soon restored to the playwright, whose scripts—not an actor's improvisations—determined the play.

By observing society and providing plausible motivation for his characters, Goldoni's more credible and more realistic works soon gained an immense following. Among his most successful are The Crafty Widow (1748); The Anti-quarian's Family (1749), in which Goldoni points to the conflict between the rising bourgeoisie and the decaying nobility; The Comic Theatre (1750), which he calls "less a Comedy than a Foreword to all my Comedies"; and La Locandiera (1753; Mine Hostess), in which the protagonist Mirandolina astutely manages to keep the affections and services of the headwaiter at her inn, while igniting the interest of two noble guests, one a professed woman hater, the other an old miser. From these and other works emerges the ethical content of Goldoni's character plays. A believer in modernity and progress, he championed the rights of women and the equality of all classes. In espousing these views, Goldoni frequently satirized the aristocracy and their courts.

—Adapted from writings by George Predota