Acis and Galatea


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ACIS and GALATEA

Composer: George Frideric Handel

Libretto: John Gay

First Produced: Cannons, Middlesex, England, 1718

Present Company: The Royal Opera & Royal Ballet, 2009

Choreographer & Director: Wayne McGregor

Set Designs: Hildegard Bechtler

Video Director: Jonathan Haswell

Orchestra: Age of Enlightenment Orchestra

Conductor: Christopher Hogwood


Cast

Galatea: Danielle de Niese/Lauren Cuthbertson

Acis: Charles Workman/Edward Watson

Damon: Paul Agnew/Steven McRae, Melissa Hamilton

Polyphemus: Matthew Rose/Eric Underwood

Coridon: Ji-Min Park/Paul Kay

  

Specs:

Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-50

Opera: 32.10 GB

Bit Rate: High (36-39 Mbps)

English DTS-HD MA 5.0

English LPCM 2.0 stereo

Subtitles: English, French, German & Spanish

Region: All

Opera runtime: 110 minutes

Opus Arte 2010

 

Grade

Conception & Staging: A-

Costumes: B

Casting: A

Singing: A

Orchestra: A

Music Direction: A

Video Direction: B+

Image: A

Audio: B+

Extras Features: C

Recommendation: B+


 

Comment

It is subtitled “Pastoral Opera in Two Acts” - but the puzzlement doesn’t stop with this curious description.  For reasons expressed - and not expressed - in music, libretto and history, the question of performance is up for grabs.  Should Acis and Galatea be sung and played in oratorio fashion, unstaged, or staged, or if the latter, with or without ballet?  Handel is mum on the subject of dance here, or stage directions in general.  The idea of using dance to explicate and rationalize the text is discussed by the director, Wayne McGregor, in his bonus piece and I think he makes a good case for the notion, and his concept in particular. 


Costuming aside, about which I shall comment shortly, I rather liked what he does with the piece.  The singers are dressed in textured garments of saturated colors, and their spiritual counterparts are dancers in full body stockings.  As you would expect for Handel, there isn’t a great deal of physical movement demanded for the singers - that is left to the musical line of their arias and their spirits, whose movements are so mercurial and fluid as to contradict what the human body is capable of.  When several dancers are on stage there appear to be attempts to coordinate fragments of movement in unison that don’t always come off precisely but, given that they seem to resemble nothing less than blood cells coursing through the ether, we shouldn’t require much in the way of unison.


       


I was more concerned that video director Jonathan Haswell cuts away from certain arrival points that singers and dancers make together than any possible lapse of unison on the parts of the dancers, as if he has just touched a hot stove.  Most of the time the choices of where to direct the camera - singers or dancers, when they are not in proximity - is sensible.  After all, once we observe the singer in their moment of pain, joy or longing we should want to be focusing on how that emotion is expressed by the dancers.  I also applaud the Fred Astaire approach to framing the dancers - generally head-to-toe, with few close ups.  From time to time - not quite often enough to satisfy me, the camera frames both dancers and singers in the same shot, which allows for a good bit of Hildegard Bechtler’s classical sets to be appreciated as well as how the actors interact with it.  I loved the bit where Polyphemus’ spirit, danced with godlike magnificence by Eric Underwood, walks off with his ersatz dog as Matthew Rose exits.


       


The soloists are wonderfully matched by dancers of the Royal Ballet: Lauren Cuthbertson, Edward Watson, Steven McRae, Melissa Hamilton, Paul Kay and Eric Underwood, about whom I could only say OMG more times than I care to admit.  The singers, featuring Danielle de Niese as Galatea, Charles Workman as Acis, Paul Agnew as Damon and Matthew Rose as a brave, half dressed Polyphemus, are very good, with high marks for de Niese (who was Giulio Cesare’s Cleopatra to die for at Glyndebourne) and Matthew Rose.


The chorus, who are brilliant by the way, are on stage in the second act and double as stage hands and move bits of sets around when called for.  It’s done remarkably subtly as if a function of the dance, though there is no possibility we could confuse them with spirits, dressed as they are in street clothes.  The always wonderful Age of Enlightenment Orchestra is conducted by Christopher Hogwood with his usual elan.


       


Opus Arte offers the usual stereo and surround mixes in uncompressed audio, but here is a case where I felt the stereo is to be preferred, though you should try both and see for yourself.  I found the stereo to be richer, fuller, more dynamic and more faithful to what voices sound like - not that the 5.0 is way off.


I wasn’t happy with the overdressed costumes of the singers in the first scenes, especially Damon’s swath of blanket across the chest. Nothing in Wayne McGregor’s bonus segment throws any light on the choice.  There’s a great deal of texture in the fabrics, but the meaning escapes me, especially in that they seem dressed for cold weather while the sets suggest Spring, nor do they look very appealing in close-up.  By contrast (and perhaps this is the point) the nude body stockings of the dancers are fabulous and underscore their spiritual selves.


       

 

Bonus Features: Wayne McGregor talks about his conception for this opera/ballet and especially the theme of Transformation (9:35).  He is quite eloquent in an informal kind of way.  Lots of clips from the production are interspersed - both behind the scenes and on stage.  Nicely done.  Missing, however, are corresponding pieces about the music and the choreography (oddly, that).  The Illustrated Synopsis, found on the disc, is helpful.


N.B. the program notes in the booklet incorrectly identifies the No. 18 Air Would you gain the tender creature? as sung by Damon. It isn’t. It’s Coridon’s one and only aria.  The booklet’s essay What’s in a Name? by Andrew V. Jones discusses the origins of Acis and Galatea and considers in some detail what sort of species it is.


Aside from my misgivings about the costumes for the singers, this is a lovely addition to the Opus Arte catalogue.


       



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 21, 2012



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