They say nothing happens by chance. In 1779, fire broke out in the Eszterházy Castle in Fertőd. The Chinese ballroom and the famous theatre hall both burned to the ground, but, in a manner verging on the miraculous, the fire did not reach Haydn’s living quarters. The fateful event occurred just a few weeks before the premiere of The Deserted Island. Had the fire done more damage, we would never have known about this royal Robinson Crusoe tale of misunderstanding, along with who knows how many other works.
Haydn. When we hear his name, we think of symphonies, string quartets, and perhaps oratorios. Operas do not come tomind so much, even though he wrote 15 of them. This season, audiences will be able to watch the fourteenth of these, performed on the mini-stage on the Royal Staircase in a production by the Moltopera under the direction of a young talent, Zsófi Geréb.
“Abandoned by the traitor Gernando, Costanza lived and died here alone, on this deserted shore. Lost traveller! Unless you be a tiger, avenge me or weep over my fate with me!” - reads Costanza's epitaph, written in her own hand, at the start of the work. Thirteen years earlier she had stopped off at the uninhabited island with her husband, Gernando, for a rest. The husband then disappeared along with the ship, and ever since she has lived alone with her younger sister, Silvia, entirely cut off from civilisation. Costanza has nearly gone mad from grief and regards all men as hated enemies. Silvia, however, arrived on the island as a tiny infant and does not feel herself to be lonely or attracted to the modern world. One day “something floating” appears on the horizon, something fast and large that Silvia had never seen before: a ship bearing with Gernando, who has returned after thirteen years, along with his friend Enrico...
For Silvia, everything outside the uninhabited island is so alien that she does not even know what kinds of beings she is watching step on to the shore. She has never seen a man, and furthermore, her elder sister has portrayed men to her as “filthy infernal pigs” who are to be feared and hated. The discussion between the strangers reveals that it was not through his own free will that Gernando had abandoned his wife, but rather he was “abducted in a surprise attack by 'savage northern pirates'.” He lived in slavery for years, and now free, is searching for his loved ones. The two men split up to cover the island more quickly, with Sylvia glimpsing Enrico and immediately “falling into the power of a sweet feeling... that [she] does not know” – her first love.
Gernando soon finds Costanza's unfinished gravestone with its epitaph and concludes that his wife is no longer alive. Enrico commiserates with his friend and suggests that they board the ship together. Gernando, however, decides that he will not leave the island, but instead will spend the rest of his life as a hermit, watching over the grave of his beloved. He deflects Enrico's attempts to make him see reason with the words: “Do not disturb my suffering! Dear friend, do not disturb my mourning!” Finally Enrico decides, in Gernando's own interest, to have the crew seize him and take him home by force. They lay a trap for him by the freshwater spring, which is when they accidentally run into Silvia.
Three things become immediately clear from their encounter: first, that Costanza is alive, and Gernando's torment is therefore unnecessary, second, that Enrico also feels attracted to Silvia at first sight, and third, that Enrico – is a man. Silvia grows terrified at this (since “men are worse than wild animals!”) and starts to plead for her life. Enrico convinces her of his benevolent intentions and asks her to find Costanza, so that she can be reunited with her “long absent husband”. Of their encounter, Silvia sings the words “like mist covering the ground turns to thick fog, fire is engulfing my heart”.Costanza has only one wish left: to finish her epitaph as soon as possible so she can die. While she continues with her work, she is discovered by Gernando, who has returned to his beloved's graveside in order to commence his new life as a hermit. Upon glimpsing her husband, Costanza faints dead away. Seeking some fresh water to revive her, Gernando rushes off to the spring, where the crew's ambush is waiting for him.
Enrico also stumbles onto Costanza. He describes how her husband had been carried off and how he has now come back to rescue her. With this, Silvia arrives with the news that Gernando has been abducted (again). The despairing Costanza hurries to aid her spouse, but presently all is resolved, and a minute later Gernando takes her hand. Enrico and Silvia also find each other, and the two couple board the ship together to cast off from the desert island.