Acis and Galatea at Iford Festival

ONE thing you can say for Pia Furtado’s production of Handel’s Acis and Galatea, at Iford Opera until Saturday, is that it looks marvellous.

It is also very well sung and played by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company.

The problem is that it is so full of Rococo fol de rols and sado-masochistic debauchery that the story is totally lost.

The Ovidian legend tells of Galatea, a sea nymph beloved of both the shepherd Acis and a Sicilian Cyclops, Polyphemus. She loved Acis, but the jealous giant hurled a rock at him and killed him. Distraught, Galatea turned his blood into a river, which still flows through the island.

It was a popular theme for composers, turned into an opera by Lully, and later by George Frederick Handel with an English text by John Gay. Described as a masque, it was regarded as the pinnacle of pastoral opera in England, first performed in 1718 on the terraces overlooking the gardens of The Earl of Chandos’s home Cannons. It became popular in Vauxhall Gardens, where the bawdy undertones were probably given full rein.

At Iford it all starts in Polyphemus’s sleazy nightclub, where Galatea is caged up awaiting the arrival of the men, and the Cyclops is demonstrating his drunken coarseness by goosing everyone in sight, male or female.

His maitre’d, a sparkly faced Damon, invites his friend Acis into the party, and the first half ends with nymph and shepherd in the climax of their passion.

When Polyphemus reappears he’s furious, and attempts to rape Galatea, only to be told by Damon that the way to win a woman is by gentleness.

Extraordinarily, the scene in which Galatea teaches this monstrously stupid giant to dance is the most poignant in the whole production. It rather ruins the denouement, which is done by the dead Acis being carted off and Galatea putting her hands in some water and waving them around.

Mary Bevan and Benjamin Hulett in the title roles offered some fine singing, but it was the tremendous presence of Lukas Jacobski as the Cyclops that made the most lasting impression.



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