Acis and Galatea | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Acis and Galatea 

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Last fall the Chicago Opera Theater scored a critical and box-office success with a stylish staging of Monteverdi's Orfeo, so it's wrapping up this season with a revival of another Baroque opera, Handel's pastoral Acis and Galatea. The current production uses a sterling 10-piece period-instrument orchestra, anchored by violist da gamba Mary Springfels and her Newberry Consort, that's essentially a subset of Orfeo's 24-piece group. And like Orfeo, it's been modernized in extramusical ways--where the COT simply put Monteverdi's characters in 20th-century clothes, however, here it's using an innovative staging developed by Mark Lamos for New York's Glimmerglass Opera, which recasts the shepherd Acis and his beloved, the nymph Galatea, as pampered suburban teens; Acis's rival, the cyclops Polyphemus, is dressed like a miner or a mechanic, the lamp on his hard hat resembling the monster's huge eye. Strictly speaking, Acis and Galatea isn't an opera but a masque, a court entertainment long on lavish sets and costumes but short on narrative depth. Loosely adapted from Ovid's Metamorphoses (the libretto is by John Gay, better known for The Beggar's Opera), the story here--Acis and Galatea are blissfully in love, Polyphemus is also smitten with Galatea, Polyphemus challenges Acis to a duel--is characteristically thin. Fortunately there are plenty of other things to engage an audience's attention: Handel's sparkling music, overflowing with wit and invention, helped make this work a hit in the early 18th century, and most of its arias, duets, and choruses are enchanting to the modern ear as well, not just showcases of vocal agility but miniature dramas full of emotional ups and downs. Lamos's staging also introduces an element of class conflict and plays up Handel's tweaking of Italian opera conventions--the monster here is a sympathetic character, not the usual one-dimensional stock villain, and the playfully exaggerated endearments of the title couple satirize the portentous passions of opera seria. Singing the leads are tenor Michael Smallwood (Acis), soprano Nathalie Paulin (Galatea), and bass-baritone Derrick Parker (Polyphemus). English early-music specialist Nicholas Cleobury conducts. Wednesday and Friday, June 6 and 8, 7:30 PM, and Sunday, June 10, 3 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; 312-704-8414. Acis and Galatea also plays at 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 14, and Saturday, June 16.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/George Mott.

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