Voyage to the Moon

moon image Dore

Tickets are now on sale for an exciting new scholarly and creative opera project, called ‘Voyage to the Moon’, which is the result of a collaborative partnership between the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE), Victorian Opera, and Musica Viva.

This project re-imagines the high drama of the baroque operatic form, and you’ll be able to read all about the fascinating research background, production and rehearsal process right here on this blog.

We anticipate this process to be of interest to scholars and the public alike, as a core aspect of the research focus is to explore the issues faced by the creative team as they grapple with the unique genre of baroque ‘pasticcio’ opera, tracing their path toward working solutions for the contemporary stage.

In particular, it explores how emotions were constituted through the pasticcio art form. By revisiting and reviving certain historical practices, researchers hope to gain insight into the ways that performers moved the affections of their audiences in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Pasticcio opera emerged in Europe during the mid-seventeenth century, when composers began assembling and compiling existing musical works, or sections of them, into new operas with either existing or newly-written texts (‘libretti’). These came to be known by the Italian term ‘pasticcio’ (pastiche). Arias were often selected by the singers, usually with the aim of showing off vocal expertise, and recitatives and ensembles were added as needed.

This constant exchanging of musical material brought its own benefits and challenges. The reuse and revision of existing music certainly saved time, but ‘filling the gaps’ in text and music was not always easy for the librettists or the composers; it needed to work in a way that made emotional sense to audiences.

Pasticcio opera thus has its roots firmly grounded in a tradition of communal property and exchange, and tracing the ways in which contemporary musicians and artists grapple with its creation will certainly make for a fascinating—and enjoyable!—study.

The story of ‘Voyage to the Moon’ is based upon Ludovico Ariosto’s epic Italian poem Orlando furioso, dating from the early sixteenth century. This tale is amongst the most influential pieces of European literature from that period, and inspired countless plays, novels, and indeed operas, especially in the baroque period. French artist Gustave Doré created a famous series of illustrations of the story in the nineteenth-century, including the one given above.

Works based on this text include an eponymous opera by Giovanni Alberto Ristori (in 1713, and again in collaboration with Antonio Vivaldi in 1714), and Vivaldi’s production of Orlando in 1727, all at the Teatro San Angelo in Venice.

Better-known examples are Handel’s Orlando of 1733, as well as Ariodante and Alcina (both 1735). Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Roland (1685) and Haydn’s Orlando paladino (1782) are also based on Ariosto’s epic tale.

Whether any previous productions of Orlando furioso count strictly as ‘pasticcio’ is debatable. Certainly, the collaboration between Ristori and Vivaldi in 1714 reflects a certain baroque spirit of creative exchange, and in Vivaldi’s 1727 production several new aria texts were provided to facilitate the inclusion of arias from his earlier operas. (Ten arias from this production were then re-used in his staging of L’Atenaide, two years later.)

‘Voyage to the Moon’ re-imagines the story of Orlando furioso within the pasticcio context. The libretto comes from the pen of famed Australian playwright Michael Gow, who directs the opera, and the music from composers/arrangers Calvin Bowman and the late Alan Curtis.

Both the creative and research teams are working collaboratively to provide audiences with an opportunity to sense both contemporary and historical affective standpoints.

One of the most important aspects of the project, however, is that it offers audiences a chance to engage actively with the creative work. Planned opportunities include a number of pre- and post-performance talks with members of the creative team, as well as workshops with the musicians, seminars, and other events.

So watch this space! We’ll regularly update the blog with interviews, research reports, and updates on the production and rehearsal process, so everybody from opera aficionados to curious newcomers should find some great reading here. Come with us on this ‘Voyage to the Moon’!

Tickets are available through the Musica Viva website:

By the Voyage to the Moon researchers Jane Davidson, Joe Browning and Frederic Kiernan, based at the University of Melbourne. Jane Davidson is Professor of Creative and Performing Arts (Music) at the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, The University of Melbourne, and Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE). Joseph Browning is a ethnomusicologist and postdoctoral research fellow at CHE specialising in the shakuhachi, central Javanese gamelan, and ethnographic approaches to Western art music. Frederic Kiernan is a PhD candidate at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and research assistant at CHE.

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