Acis and Galatea

JEFF CARPENTER find Acis and Galatea a musical delight, despite its total silliness.

acis galatea harriet flower Jeff Carpenter joachim cassel ruairi bowen Toby Jones

7pm,Corpus Christi College, Master’s Lodge Garden, 20th-22nd June, £10.50/£6.50


Handel’s Acis and Galatea is a simply delightful, 80 minute pastoral romp. The show shone musically, the ensemble and singing were both fabulous. Despite the good theatrical direction, don’t go expecting a great story.

On my way into Corpus Christi, a white-faced, toga-ed nymph halted me and jigged ethereally around a poster for the show, pointing me to the Master’s Garden. Settling into my chair, nymphs were hiding, looking at me, in the bushes. I was intrigued and rather excited.

The overture struck up lively and confident, and I was fairly bowled over by the musicianship. The small ensemble of strings, harpsichord, oboe, bassoon and recorders – only one or two to a part – sounded rich and elegant, and throughout the whole show they bounded through the music like it was second nature. The harpsichordist deserves special mention for his brilliant attention to detail, flair, and undertaking the massive task.

During the overture, more of these nymphs and topless male fauns came in, rolling about with grapes, touching the audience, and then dancing round a may pole. They lolled about and danced, laughing politely at their own silly decadence – you get the idea. Each chorus had their own character and striking physicality. They created a sort of classical playground, even if some of the jollity was a little forced. This dynamism within the chorus remained throughout the whole show, even when they slunk off into the background, and was the theatrical highlight.

After the chorus’ rousing opening, our Gal (Harriet Flower) wandered in, declaring her sorrow à la typical sad opera babe. A semi-divine nymph, she looked a little richer than the other nymphs, who proceeded to mock the tragic way she held herself, getting sexy and stuck into each other to make her jealous. Flower’s voice, the first solo, was gorgeous and confident, and we heard every word. However, the ‘mock opera tragic babe’ vibe didn’t hold our interest that long, and a lot of her actions seemed like classic opera cliches rather than genuine emotion.

After some feminine floundering, Ace (Ruairi Bowen) showed up, a wandering shepherd.  The music was high, and despite some excellent tuning, his voice seemed a little wavery at first (though towards the end of the show he seemed to have warmed up a bit). Unfortunately, he seemed to have no facial expression, neither when lusting, mourning, angry, or in love. Compared with the dynamic, individual and expressive chorus, Ace and Gal both felt a bit flat. As a result, I just couldn’t buy into the tragedy at the end of the show. I hadn’t really seen them develop any sort of relationship, other than the cheeky clues given by the chorus.

Polyphemus the Cyclops (Joachim Cassel) was a believable tyrant, tucking into his chicken leg and port, sporting a tailcoat. One of my favourite moments was the scene where charged about his quarters with lust for Gal, his powerful bass voice contrasting with her vigorous sopranino descant.  Yet the fight scene was disappointingly tame and not really believable, especially not after the big build-up.

Ace and Gal seems to me a particularly silly little opera, without being that outlandish. This is the real challenge when it comes to staging it: the repetitive, bland libretto does not cry out ‘stage me’, and as a result you end up watching a bland, repetitive show, in spite of the careful attention to detail and lovely images created by director Toby Jones. Musically though, it’s a delight, and if you’re a fan of bouncy baroque rhythms and good musicianship you should definitely go along.