Review: Acis and Galatea

First published in The Herald on 28 November, 2013

Acis and Galatea
Mono, Glasgow

The first inspired move by this Music of the Spheres/Glasgow Opera Collective student production was to set it in a Trongate bar that usually hosts indie bands, not baroque opera. The place was packed with eaters and drinkers, including reams of those elusive ‘young people’ whom opera companies covet so much. The bar served burgers and pints during the show yet noise wasn’t an issue. The up-close informality really worked; the singers didn’t have to overstretch their voices and the audience listened with more genuine intent than I’ve witnessed in many an opera house.

Handel’s 1718 work (variously called a masque, music drama, pastoral or serenata) tells of frolicking nymphs and shepherds, of the love between Acis and Galatea and the jealous rage of the monster Polyphemus. It’s as baffling a scenario as you’ll find in most Handel operas, but director Harriet Bolwell’s nifty conceit was to set the whole thing between quotation marks. An aspiring opera troupe meets in a bar to rehearse; life begins to imitate art as the drama hots up. Jacob/Acis (Kenneth Reid) rekindles feelings for his ex, Louise/Galatea (Fiona Wilkie), while singing a sensuous Love In Her Eyes Sits Playing; Mark/Polyphemus (Sam Carl) spits out ‘Rage’ and ‘Fury’ as his girlfriend’s dramatic flirting becomes a bit too convincing.

The singers captured some artful period touches and their ensemble numbers were beautifully balanced. Wilkie’s ornaments sounded light and stylish; Carl made a consummate Handelian baddy; Christian Schneeberger played the opera luvvie with aplomb. Conducted by John Butt, the small orchestra clinched the right drive and focus, with strong lines and bright, buoyant energy. Sure, they had tuning problems, but show me a period instrument band that doesn’t.