To open their 18th season, the Union Avenue Opera has chosen an English text version (John Gay) of Handel's take on the mythological, with Acis and Galatea (seen April 29, 2012). This is definitely a tale of two acts, with the first being devoted to their love for one another, this semi-divine sea nymph, and her faithful shepherd. But, things take a nasty turn in the second act, even though Galatea is able to resurrect the slain Acis as a river. If that seems a bit fanciful, it is, but that's the charm of Handel's work. It bears the catchy repetition he's famous for, and it's well played by a small cast filled with superior voices. This is deceptively demanding in the amount of coloratura that shapes so many of his phrases.
Acis and Galatea live in a fairytale land, pastoral and filled with love and beauty. Then, Polyphemus, a giant Cyclops, arrives and his unfulfilled love for Galatea finally spills over into rage, and eventually an act of violence that leaves our hero dead. Though the shepherds and nymphs mourn his death they encourage Galatea to use her special powers to immortalize the spirit of Acis. They then celebrate his “rebirth”.
It's a tragic little tale of sorts, and Juliet Petrus (Galatea) has a voice like glass, so clear and distinct that the text isn't needed when she's singing. She makes a splendid sea nymph, and she's nicely paired with Marc Shapman, whose splendid tenor is put to the test with this score. David Dillard plays the Cyclops, Polyphemus, and he does terrific work playing up his anger over his unrequited love. Elise LaBarge and Elizabeth Schleicher are also quite good as the nymphs, and Philip Touchette and Nathan Ruggles add to the merriment as shepherds.
Scott Schoonover's conducting of this score is very well done, with the phrasing sharp and clear, and the orchestra extremely well-balanced between strings, woodwinds, and harpsichord. Allyson Ditchey's stage director is playful during the first act, and of course, more serious for the second act. But, it works very well for this material. The set isn't credited to any one person, but other than the boulder Polyphemus uses, it's a pleasing display of flora and fauna that suits the show. Teresa Doggett's costumes fit the era and the mythology on display, and Anthony Anselmo's lighting sets the mood nicely.
Next up is Giuseppe Verdi's Un ballo in maschera June 29 through July 7.