The composer Alban Berg exhorted peformers to play new music as if it was old, and old as if it was new. For well over half a century Nikolaus Harnoncourt has led the musical world in the refreshing of many masterpieces of the classical repertoire. It was fortuitous that Harnoncourt's eightieth birthday coincided with the two-hundredth anniversary of the death of Jospeh Haydn. Harnoncourt has certainly done his bit to rescue some of the largely forgotten operas of Haydn. The most recent example of this happy combination was the production of Haydn's 1777 comic opera Il Mondo della Luna at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna that finished its run on 22 December.
I made it along to the last performance and it was a real treat. Harnoncourt's own orchestra Concentus Musicus Wien was in the pit and Tobias Moretti was the director. The young cast was excellent and their genuine acting and movement skills were one of the highlights of the evening. The production was contemporary in feel and made effective use of video in the first act.
The whole performance showed how current, interesting and alive opera can be when the approach to the old is that of a creative team and cast approaching a new work. Just as Berg wanted.
p.s. If you are in Vienna anytime soon and you want to see some fresh, lively opera minus the layers of dusty tradition, check out the Theater an der Wien. It's a wonderful old and small theatre where Beethoven once lived and where his only opera, Fidelio, was premiered. But it's not the history that counts. A recent magazine survey of 50 critics put Theater an der Wien in second place of the world's best opera houses! It's well worth a visit if you want to see opera come alive.