Lammermuir Festival review: Acis and Galatea

First published in The Herald on 23 September, 2014

Don’t let anyone tell you that the narrative of Acis and Galatea is too vapid for decent drama, nor that an opera in concert performance can’t be properly entertaining. What little plot there is to Handel’s 1718 pastoral mini-opera involves a nymph, a shepherd and an evil monster, all lifted from book eight of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Usually a performance is worth sitting through for is its gorgeous music alone: this concise little two-acter contains some of Handel’s most irresistible tunes.

That John Butt and the Dunedin Consort had such a lark with the characters, invoked such vivid tableaux and reduced the Lammermuir Festival audience into stitches speaks volumes about the blithe spirit of this ensemble. Fresh from winning a Gramophone Award for their latest recording (Mozart’s Requiem), the Dunedins only seem to get better and better. Their academic credentials are solidly established and increasingly they seem to be letting loose. This performance brought out the flamboyant best in the musicians and the music.

Playing Butt’s original ‘Cannons performing version’ (the differences are subtleties of instrumentation and dramatic pacing) the 12-strong band sounded gutsy, lithe and warm. Pamela Thorby’s recorder solos stood out, dazzlingly stylish. The five singers were relaxed, playful and supply balanced in ensemble numbers. Joanne Lunn was on great form as Galatea, even if her pure, sculpted phrases kept to the chaste side of the libretto’s heavy ‘panting’ and ‘desire’. Nicholas Mulroy’s Acis was a breezy, loveable shepherd, his voice totally at home in the role. Matthew Brook gave a deliciously hammed up account of the bumbling, raging Polyphemus: he stuck out his tongue, bared his chest and sang an outrageously camp ‘O ruddier than the cherry’. All good fun.