"To commemorate the 250th anniversary of Handel's death in 2009, the Royal Opera House's resident opera and ballet companies joined forces to present a whimsical and absorbing version of Acis and Galatea in which singing and dancing share the narrative burden.
Handel supplied no stage directions, so directors freely indulge their creative prerogatives when translating this delightful masque to the theater stage. Wayne McGregor, the director-choreographer, fills the dramatic blank spaces between the airs and choruses by assigning each of the five characters their dancing doubles. Dressed in flesh-colored body stockings, the dancers shadow the central lovers and two shepherds when they aren't miming, enlarging upon, or sometimes even contradicting emotions that are only implied in the vocal texts. Some, though not all, of the choral numbers are similarly "interpreted" by a small corps de ballet.
What could have proved an awkward marriage of operatic oil and balletic water actually works quite delightfully. For this, let's give thanks to McGregor's eye for striking stage pictures and ability to invent fluid, dramatically apposite movement, along with the considerable skills of the performers.
Danielle de Niese, unaccountably costumed in a ratty fur coat and sporting a ludicrous wig of blonde pigtails, makes a wonderful Galatea, radiant in the grip of love, deeply affecting as she tenderly cradles Acis' lifeless body. De Niese's early balletic training comes in handy in the transformation scene at the end during which the soprano and the lithe dancer Edward Watson evoke the lovers' spiritual reunion. Charles Workman sounds somewhat discomfited by the vocal writing but makes a believably naive Acis.
The sinuous dancer Eric Underwood suggests the inner Adonis trapped in the sagging corpulence of the brutish giant, Polyphemus; the villain is sturdily sung by Matthew Rose, although his `O ruddier than the cherry' is curiously purged of any humor. Paul Agnew and Ji-Min Park acquit themselves nicely as the shepherds Damon and Coridon. The period instrumentalists of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment infuse the score with crackling verve and airy grace under Christopher Hogwood's stylish hand.
The high-definition picture quality and surround sound on the DVD release (a Blu-ray version is also available) are first-class. Extras include a synopsis, cast gallery, and a behind-the-scenes feature in which McGregor elaborates on his production concept. Handelians and ballet buffs alike should eat this one up, particularly since this new Opus Arte issue has the DVD field entirely to itself at the moment." -John von Rhein -- The Classical Review - http://theclassicalreview.com/cds-dvds/2010/06/handel-acis-and-galatea/
Acis and Galatea is an absolutely delightful work, one of Handel's great masterpieces, but what on earth is it? Is it an oratorio, a masque, an opera or something else altogether? For its Handel anniversary production in 2009 Covent Garden decided that it was a mix of all these and its triumphant staging gives us a rare opportunity to see the combined talents of both the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet on the same stage. By the way, if you're more interested in the debate over Acis' form then this is dealt with in a most informative way by Andrew V Jones' scholarly booklet note for this release...
Dancers aside, the star of the show is undoubtedly the delectable, delightful de Niese by whom, I admit, I was entirely smitten. She is strikingly beautiful to look at on stage but this would count for little were it not for her remarkably lovely voice. Her light soprano is bright and blithe throughout Act 1 and full of pathos for Act 2 - Heart, the seat of soft delight is meltingly lovely, perhaps the highlight of the set. Added to this is her visible sense of wide-eyed wonder at the events unfolding around her, the very type of pastoral innocence. The climax of the evening comes at the end when, having transformed Acis into the fountain, she dances with his spirit/dancer showing physical awareness and adaptability quite remarkable for a singer. Next to her Charles Workman, dressed in a shepherd's tatty jumper and trousers, is disappointingly workaday. His voice, while not unpleasant, sounds hollow and pale and he cannot do justice to Handel's lovely melodies. Love in her eyes lacks the beguiling wonder it should carry and Love sounds th'alarm is weak rather than heroic. Paul Agnew is an effective Damon and Ji-Min Park's Coridon has accented English but a fine tenor voice. Matthew Rose is a very fine Polyphemus, threatening yet humorous at the same time, singing with a rich, full bass that is exciting and vibrant without being over-dominant. The trio, The flocks shall leave the mountains, is very effective, bringing out the best in all three protagonists...
Orchestral duties are done by the OAE in the pit, an ensemble who know this music inside out and it shows with delectable string sound and some beautiful wind solos. Hogwood loves the bouncy rhythms of Handel's textures. Don't be put off by an excessively slow opening chorus: it soon gives way to much more energetic pacing. The reduced chorus sing most effectively, Handel's counterpoint shining through in their transparent textures, particularly towards the end.
All told, then, this production looks great and, Workman aside, sounds fantastic too. I found it very convincing and if you're going to stage Acis then this is as effective a way of doing it as any I can think of. -- Music Web International- Simon Thompson
Although Acis and Galatea was Handel's most popular stage work during his lifetime, this production with Christopher Hogwood conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment from last year marks the first at Covent Garden in almost a century. Especially noteworthy is how the director-choreographer, Wayne McGregor, has teamed up both of Covent Garden's resident companies, the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. By pairing each singer with a dancer, McGregor works choreography into every element of the score. Just how moving this can be is apparent in the enchanting final scene when soprano Danielle de Niese - a trained dancer - as Galatea performs a captivating pas de deux with Acis's ethereal double, Edward Watson. But the semi-divine enchantments of this work, based on classical mythology, are undermined by Hildegard Bechtler's bizarre costumes, which dampen both the comedy and the pathos. Bass Matthew Rose as the giant Polyphemus sings with plenty of bravado, but he looks like a thug with his bare chest covered in scars. Di Niese's voice is expressive, but her shapeless coat, ratty scarf, and bleached-blond braided wig turn this lovely-looking singer - surely a director's dream - into a frump. At least tenor Paul Agnew's costume as the shepherd Damon works, since his ardent, stylish Consider fair shepherd provides the vocal highlight of the DVD (OpusArte OA 1025 D).
Concert Notes: Gordon Gietz sings with the Toronto Summer Music Festival Ensemble in a program including Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and the world premiere of Song of the Earth by Glenn Buhr on Saturday, August 7 in the MacMillan Theatre. Opera Atelier is mounting a new production of Acis and Galatea, directed by Marshal Pynkoski and choreographed by Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg, at the Elgin Theatre from Oct. 30 - Nov. 7. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. -- The Whole Note, Pamela Margles