Handel: Acis and Galatea

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: Acis and Galatea
PERFORMER: Danielle de Niese, Charles Workman, Paul Agnew, Matthew Rose, Ji-Min Park; Dancers of the Royal Ballet; The Royal Opera Extra Chorus; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Christopher Hogwood; dir. Wayne McGregor (London, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1025 D

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Girl meets boy. Girl loses boy. Girl turns boy into a stream. First performed in 1718 at the Duke of Chandos’s country estate, Cannons, Handel’s English serenata Acis and Galatea is as seductive as it is concise: decked with ardent arias, Italianate ensembles, chirruping birdsong and limpid brooks.

This collaboration between the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet was the second half of last year’s composer anniversary double-bill. Set apart from its desexualised companion piece, Dido and Aeneas, and sensitively filmed by Jonathan Haswell, Acis is brighter and fresher than it seemed at the time, though choreographer-director Wayne McGregor’s doubling of each role is more distracting than it is illuminating.

Hildegard Bechtler’s designs move from a gauzy Poussin idyll to an angry, post-apocalyptic abstract. As the singers’ bodystockinged Philip Pullmanesque daemons, dancers Lauren Cuthbertson, Edward Watson and Eric Underwood prove more expressive than their vocal counterparts.

In platinum-blond plaits and a perma-smile, Danielle de Niese’s brittle Galatea is a little try-hard for this tender role, while Charles Workman’s stylistically-challenged Acis is outclassed by both of the supporting tenors, Paul Agnew (Damon) and Ji-Min Park (Coridon). Vocally, the star of the show is Matthew Rose, whose pitch-perfect Polyphemus conveys the bruised vulnerability of the inarticulate and ugly.

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Christopher Hogwood’s musical direction is more elegant than energetic, perhaps in deference to Covent Garden’s creaky chorus. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment play suavely, with exquisite work from the uncredited sopranino recorders. Anna Picard