Acis and Galatea, Music: Georg Frideric Handel, Libretto: John Gay (with Alexander Pope and John Hughes).
Composed in the early 18th century, Acis and Galatea was Handel’s English language masterpiece. Often referred to as a masque or serenata or pastoral, Acis and Galatea is in every way an opera. Based on a story told by Ovid, the opera is a deeply passionate work of musical theater that explores many emotions and aspects of human nature – love, loss, heartbreak, and immortality for sure, but also presents us with a psychological look at the hurt of rejection and of being treated as an annoying "outsider." Act 1 is full of happy thoughts as love blossoms in an idyllic world of shepherds, shepherdesses and nymphs. Act 2 presents the realities of life where roses come with thorns.
Acis and Galatea - Act 1
Track Points for Arias:
0:00 Sinfonia 3:57 Pleasures of the Plains
10:21 Hush, Ye Pretty Warbling Choir 10:35 Where Shall I Seek
22:05 Shepherd, What art thou pursuing?
27:48 Love In Her Eyes 34:35 As When the Dove
40:50 Happy, Happy
Acis and Galatea - Act 2
Track Points for Arias:
0:00 Wretched Lovers 5:10 I Rage
6:40 Ruddier Than the Cherry 9:55 Whither, Fare One
11:20 Cease to Beauty 15:25 Would You Gain
22:05 Love Sounds the Alarm 27:05 Consider, Fond Shepherd
34:20 The Flocks Shall Leave the Mountains
36:25 Help, Galatea 37:55 Mourn, All Ye Muses
43:30 Heart, the seat of soft delight 48:30 Galatea, Dry they Tears
51:15 Bows and Credits
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Acis and Galatea also presents an interesting picture of the “villain” Polyphemus.” In many ways, Polyphemus may be ugly and repulsive, but in truth he is more merely an “outsider,” somebody who isn’t welcome in the idyllic Arcadia inhabited by everybody else. His music is almost comic in nature, whether it be his boastful speech or his childlike entrance expressive of his range of response. “Ruddier than a Cherry” is a difficult aria to characterize at all, again somewhat childlike in references and in tunefulness more like a music hall song reminiscent – or one should say foreshadowing – of songs given to the bad guys in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Rejection, however, is something he probably knows all too often and when rejected one too many times and left to watch others cavort in happiness, he snaps and the mostly pleasant opera becomes painfully tragic. In the context of the show, is there a chorus more painful than “Mourn, All Ye Muses?” But Acis becomes immortal – his blood transformed into life-sustaining rivers. “Heart, the Seat of Soft Delight” becomes one of the most moving expressions of love and acceptance as Galatea resigns herself to her loss.
Along the way, there are more messages relevant to the modern world in addition to the dangers of exclusionism and rejection of those who are “different” or not beautiful. Damon’s arias are filled with philosophical advice as meaningful in the 21st as in the 18th century. Perhaps most meaningful of all is the admonition to treat the object of one’s desire not with force or oppression, but to treat her “Softly, gently.”
There is some debate over who sang the role of Damon in Handel’s first private performance. Apparently, the score is written with a “tenor” clef – thereby implying perhaps that the role was written for tenor. But scholars have made note that Handel himself referred to the singer of the role as “the boy” or “the soprano,” implying that a boy soprano sang the role. In the many subsequent productions of the opera in Handel’s lifetime – some with Handel’s participation and some without – the role was sometimes sung by a female soprano. We have opted to perform it this way. With this cast and approach emphasizing that these are young people, the relationships come through with relevance speaking to today’s world as well as to Handel’s and to various elements of human nature and society.
The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, Robert W. Butts – Conductor
Acis: Dmitri Zigrino Galatea: Noelle Arteche
Polyphemus: Don Kalbach Damon: Timothy Maureen Cole
Chorus: Alessia Santoro, Doris Smith, Paige Whitmore, Barbara Agins, Teresa Giardina, Ann Urbanowicz, Scott Miller, Phil Smith, Robert Paoli
Violin: Agnes Kwasniewska, Allen Weakland, Hany Rizkalla, Marilyn Tepper, Darlene Brandt, Tamara Gund, Cassandra Lambros, Ae Kyong Yoon, Susan Mitchell, Suzanne Weinberg, Doris Young, Joanna Volz
Cello: Robert Deutsch, Janis Kaplan, Nancy Connell, William Becker
Bass: Roosevelt Porter
Winds: Margaret Walker, Laura Ferraro, Katie Rakus, Andrew Pecota, Gail Repko
Keyboard: Rob Keiser