A new take on an old story
Handel’s take on the Greek myth of Acis and Galatea received a refreshingly twenty-first century approach by re:Naissance Opera and Sound the Alarm: Music/Theatre at the Annex Theatre in downtown Vancouver on September 16. Collaborating with Helsinki’s Ensemble Nylandia led by Matias Hakkinen from the harpsichord, a vibrant group of young artists presented a tight, coherent, riveting read of a classic Baroque opera.
The original plot involves Galatea, a sea nymph who loves the young shepherd, Acis. The one-eyed monster, Polyphemus, lusts after her and eventually kills Acis with a rock. Galatea, being a goddess, is saved, and turns Acis into a stream so that he might always be part of her ocean.
Bringing the myth to life
The simple set consisted of five deciduous trees anchored to the earth by sinuous snake-like roots. An Arcadian picture emerged of friends enjoying a picnic, relishing their freedom from sexual stereotypes by removing and swapping clothing. In mezzo-soprano Debi Wong and Director/Producer Alan Corbishleys’ re-working of the tale, Galatea (soprano Rachel Fenlon) fears her husband, Polyphemus, as she is in love with Acis, a woman (Wong) in this adaptation. The growth of their budding relationship is subtle, tender and loving until Polyphemus, powerfully sung by baritone Peter Monaghan, strides onto the scene. He breaks up the two women and attempts to rape Acis before finally killing her with a large rock. During all of this intense action, the clarity and sonority of Fenlon’s voice blended seamlessly with Wong’s mellow mezzo.
Part way through the action, the trees (set by Craig Alfredson) were hoisted, allowing their roots to hang down to suggest secrecy and confusion while also providing a burial place for Acis. As their friends gathered (Damon, sung by Marie Civitarese, and the chorus consisting of CD Saint, Clinton Stoffberg, Heather Molloy and William Alexander Liu), a small green branch descends, connecting to Acis’s body as a symbol of the new growth that might come from her corpse and make her immortal. As the opera ends, characters sadly revert to their original clothing and their conventional lives, leaving Galatea to mourn.
Acis and Galatea, Co-presented by re:Naissance Opera & Sound the Alarm: Music/Theatre, The Annex Theatre, Vancouver, September 16, 2017