Last night we had the rare opportunity to see a fully staged production of one of Haydn’s fifteen operas. English Touring Opera are taking Il Mondo della Luna – ‘Life on the Moon’ in James Conway’s translation of Goldoni’s play – across the country following this opening performance at the Hackney Empire. Sung in English and with some minor trimming of two supporting roles the production was well-received in a theatre that is apparently no stranger to Haydn’s music; indeed the ETO staff had set up a spotlight to pick out Haydn (and Handel – they are also touring Ottone) on the wall of the foyer:
Some say that Haydn’s operas are only done once in a blue moon and it may be that director Cal McCrystal has absorbed this very literally, overseeing a broad comic staging that makes plenty of ‘blue’ jokes about the inhabitants of the moon – not to mention those looking up at it.
Christopher Bucknall directs the Old Street Band from the harpsichord in a lively performance in the pit. Just as the contemporaneous production sparkles some fine new costumes from designer takis, so the music skitters along in its period instrumentation without simply seeming thin. The cast are helped in their various arias by Bucknall whom one can clearly see repeating sung phrases to encourage his orchestral musicians in their phrasing.
ETO give nine further performances of the piece across the UK, from Durham to Exeter. No doubt Haydn’s experience of turning Goldoni’s work into an opera in Esterháza simply fuelled his interest in astronomy (culminating in a visit to William Herschel in Slough to try the scientist’s telescope) although I’m not sure that he ever envisaged his work being given in a theatre with a starry firmament of its own: