wit and sparkle…
Handel's masque Acis and Galatea is a quintessential “nymphs and shepherds” entertainment. Set to a good libretto by John Gay, of Beggars Opera fame, it gently parodies the classical idyll of Arcadian bliss: Nymph longs for shepherd, shepherd abandons flock to join her and they devote themselves to joy and love despite warnings that they are “running to thy ruin”. Along comes monster, takes a shine to nymph, (“ruddier than a cherry” in his eyes), nymph assures shepherd of her constancy but he flies into a rage and attacks monster who kills him with a single blow. Heartbroken nymph turns casualty into a fountain, forever to flow “murm'ring still his gentle love”.
It achieved immediate popularity, but in sophisticated Vienna half a century on Handel's baroque orchestration would have seemed quaintly old fashioned. Mozart was commissioned to bring it up to date. It was his refined version (K 566) that Bampton Classical Opera chose to present, with the programme helpfully commenting on the changes in detail.
Richard Dickins adopted a jaunty pace for the opening sinfonia and this set the stamp on a performance which was full of wit and sparkle whilst remaining completely respectful of the music.
As the nymph Galatea, Rebecca Bottone appeared delicately vulnerable in a pencil slim dress that twinkled as she moved (Kylie Minogh with a classically trained voice, as someone sitting near me remarked) and she matched her looks with sunny tone and glittering coloratura.
Acis (John McMunn) looked suitably bucolic and proved himself to be a really lovely Handelian stylist. Love sounds th'alarm deserved an accolade, but the audience were rightly loathe to break the action at that point.
Polyphemus was sung by the young Czech bass Vojtech Safarik getting his tongue round the fast paced O ruddier than the cherry and Cease to beauty to be suing with polish yet still conveying all the awkwardness of an ungainly monster.
Damon, the fourth character in the cast, is a mere bystander, commenting and handing out advice but taking no direct part in the action. Robert Murray was in fine voice and really brought the character to life: an honest broker deeply concerned by the follies of the world around him.
The orchestra were clearly enjoying proceedings, none more so the two splendid horn players Christopher Newport and Anthony Catterick, and Cantandum made a sparky chorus who would have got more of their words across if fewer heads had been buried in their scores.
A delightful evening.