ONE of the best-known songs from Handel’s Acis and Galatea could have been the theme for this year’s Dorset Opera Festival. “Happy, happy we!” really summed up the atmosphere in the Coade Hall at Bryanston School.
Opera lovers from across Dorset, starved of live performance for so long, turned out to enjoy a very different festival, without the large chorus which is usually one of the essential features but was not possible in a time of Covid.
Instead, artistic director Rod Kennedy and his team served up a fabulous confection of 18th century opera – two of Mozart’s greatest, Cosi Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni, and Handel’s gorgeous arcadian romp, Acis and Galatea, in a semi-staged performance..
Musical director Jeremy Carnall had a smaller orchestra than usual, but one that was perfectly suited to the demands of Mozart and Handel.
As always with Dorset Opera Festival, there were some stunning performances, not least in the hugely acclaimed Don Giovanni, where the title role was taken by the Panamian-American baritone Nmon Ford, demonstrating the charisma that charms and bamboozles both women and men.
Polish bass Lukas Jakobski brought his huge presence and deep resonant voice to the Commendatore, the Don’s nemesis, and also to the role of the one-eyed monster Polyphemus in Acis and Galatea. There was real pathos as the love-lorn Cyclops, advised by Damon, gathers flowers to woo Galatea, and the over-whelming, uncontrollable anger and jealousy which drives him to kill Acis. It reminded me forcibly and for the first time of Mary Shelley’s destructive but pathetic Monster in Frankenstein – the tragedy of an unlovable non-human who nonetheless feels human emotions.
Acis was sung by Peter Gijsbertsen, a brilliant young Dutch tenor who also sang Ferrando in Cosi. He has a deliciously rich tenor voice, well suited to Handel’s glorious music.
Elizabeth Cragg, who some local opera lovers may also have seen at Iford Opera, was a perfect match for Gijsbertsen’s enamoured shepherd, as the beautiful nymph Galatea. Her supple soprano was the ideal medium for Handel’s sophisticated take on pastoral passion.
Dorset tenor Kieran White took over from the indisposed Tom Smith as Acis’s wise friend Damon. His lovely high tenor voice was a satisfying contrast with both Gijsbertsen and Jakobski.
While we all admire the huge chorus which is such a feature of Dorset Opera, it was a real treat to hear the slimmed down elite chorus of young singers, bringing verve, warmth and wit to both the singing and the inventive semi-staging.
For opera-lovers who have long wanted Dorset Opera to tackle Mozart (or Handel) this strange Covid year brought real musical magic to the steamy heat of July 2021.
Pictured: Elizabeth Cragg, who sang Galatea. Nmon Ford made his Dorset Opera debut as Don Giovanni.