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Fern Siegel

Fern Siegel

Posted: January 21, 2010 05:11 PM

Stage Door: Il Mondo Della Luna, Capitol Steps

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Consider it must-see opera. In a first for the Hayden Planetarium, it will stage Joseph Haydn's comic opera Il Mondo Della Luna through Jan. 28. Trimmed to 100 minutes sans intermission, the intimate setting, which utilizes a 180-degree dome and gorgeous light projections, fuses opera and stargazing in a night to remember.

The production, from the Gotham Chamber Opera, is masterful -- thanks to a remarkable cast and Anka Lupes' outrageously inventive costumes. Director Diane Paulus, a Tony winner for Hair, keeps the action, performed on an elevated platform, lively. The intricacies of laser technology co-mingle with this fanciful 1777 work, which boasts glorious music augmented by the harpsichord. Plus, a Zeiss Mark IX Star Projector recreates the night sky. Il Mondo is an extraordinary way to experience the medium.

The story concerns a lascivious but strict nobleman (Marco Nistico) with two daughters (Hanan Alattar and Albina Shagimuratova) who denies them marriage to their true loves. But thanks to a fake astronomer (Nicholas Coppolo), who tricks the pompous fool into believing he is on the moon, the women get hefty dowries and the husbands they desire.

For music buffs, it's a chance to enjoy a rarely done opera; Haydn wrote for Esterházy princes and staged his efforts in royal summer retreats. Neal Goren, the founding artistic director of Gotham Chamber Opera, wrote in a program note: "This is not only the best of Haydn, this is the best of music."

For fans of the Hayden Planetarium, it's a second opportunity to enjoy the museum's space shows. Its ongoing wonder -- Journey to the Stars -- features extraordinary images of space, coupled with Robert Miller's exhilarating score. During this singular adventure, which details celestial happenings over billions of years, viewers get a solar education. Il Mondo gives the setting a whimsical twist.

On a more earthly plane, Capitol Steps will launch its 2010 season at Town Hall, Feb. 19. The bipartisan troupe, whose specialty is political satire, will feature songs from their latest album, Obama Mia. The group, whose claim to fame is that they put "the mock in democracy," happily slams both sides of the political aisle.

Formed in December 1981 by a group of congressional staffers, it has subsequently performed on stage, TV, NPR and recorded 29 albums. Many current cast members, 31 in all, are drawn from former staffers who collectively served 11 senators and seven congressmen of both parties.

Performer and co-writer Mark Eaton joined Capitol Steps in 1993; he worked on the Hill for 10 years before becoming a lobbyist. "We're currently taking shots at anything in the headlines," he says. "Sarah Palin's book tour and move to Fox News, the health-care debate, auto bailouts and Tiger Woods."

While Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart hit comic gold with George W. Bush, Eaton says Obama doesn't supply the same amount of material. But he quickly adds the president has surrounded himself with "plenty of funny, gaffe-prone people, including Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. We've always said our show's greatest enemy is a competent government. Therefore, we should be around for a long, long time."

The ongoing success of Comedy Central's late-night kings, as well as Capitol Steps' success, underscores Eaton's point: "People love to laugh at the rich and powerful; they are the best targets for satire. It makes us feel a bit better to knock a politician or public figure down a few pegs."

The Capitol Steps perform every Friday and Saturday year-round in Washington, D.C. at the Ronald Reagan Building. Next month, New Yorkers get a chance to see them in action.