Thursday, 4 July 2013

Is there a connection between Tahiti and Haydn's L'isola disabitata opera?

Earlier this year, June and I both attended a performance of Haydn's opera L'isola disabitata from the Royal Opera House in London, at our local Theatre Royal. Afterwards we mused whether we would be able to find any connection between the deserted island theme and Tahiti. I am excited to say that maybe I have found it. A few facts. I found that, according to Engaging Haydn: Culture, Context, and Criticism edited by Mary Hunter, Richard Will which can be read at, Haydn owned a 1784 edition of Cook’s travel diaries. Wow! How extraordinary. Here is a connection. Englishman Captain Cook sailed to Tahiti arriving in 1769. Haydn (1732-1809) lived almost entirely in Austria where this opera was premiered in 1779, except for two forays to London in the 1790s. Therefore Haydn had a few years to learn about Cook's travels and be inspired by the exoticness of islands. The questions that must be asked include, did Haydn acquire his copy of Captain Cook's journals when in London or earlier in Austria? Or is it possible that any or many of the Englishmen undertaking their Grand Tours on the continent could have informed him of Captain Cook's achievements, or carried a copy of the journal with them when they passed though Austria? Or maybe none of this is relevant. The 18th century started with Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe (1719)and the public loved stories about abandonment on deserted isles. The text by Metastasio for Haydn's opera had been around for a long while (since 1753) but Haydn wasn't given permission to write freely by his employer until 1779 the year this opera was released. Was Haydn simply pursuing a popular trend for story?

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