Newport Harbor Lutheran
Church, 4 p.m.
Opera Festival Finale
John Bischoff, bass
Christine Brandes, soprano
Alice Murray, alto
Brian Thorsett, tenor
Matthew Tresler, tenor
Inga Funck, recorder
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Concerto grosso in A major, Op. 6, No. 11
Andante Larghetto e Staccato
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Acis and Galatea, HWV 49
Full concert performance
Galatea — Christine Brandes
Acis — Brian Thorsett
Damon — Matt Tresler
Polyphemus — John Bischoff
Chorus: Oh, the pleasure of the plains!
Recitative (Galatea): Ye verdant plains
Aria (Galatea): Hush, ye pretty warbling quire
Aria (Acis): Where shall I seek the charming fair?
Recitative (Damon): Stay, shepherd, stay
Aria (Damon): Shepherd, what art thou pursuing?
Recitative (Acis): Lo, here my love!
Aria (Acis): Love in her eyes sits playing
Recitative (Galatea): Oh! didst thou know
Aria (Galatea): As when the dove
Duet and Chorus (Acis, Galatea, chorus): Happy we
Chorus: Wretched lovers
Recitative (Polyphemus): I rage, I melt, I burn!
Aria (Polyphemus): O ruddier than the cherry
Recitative (Galatea, Polyphemus):
The lion calls not to his prey
Aria (Polyphemus): Cease to beauty to be suing
Aria (Damon): Would you gain the tender creature
Recitative (Acis): His hideous love
Aria (Acis): Love sounds th’ alarm
Aria (Damon): Consider, fond shepherd
Recitative (Galatea): Cease, oh cease
Trio (Acis, Galatea, Polyphemus):
The flocks shall leave the mountains
Recitative (Acis): Help, Galatea!
Chorus: Mourn, all ye muses
Recitative (Galatea): ’Tis done
Aria (Galatea): Heart, the seat of soft delight
Chorus: Galatea, dry thy tears
andel’s Opus 6 collection of concerti grossi is justly famous — buoyant, expressive, inventive and endlessly engaging. The opening movement of No. 11 is quite unusual, featuring a repeated note figure that increases in speed and sweetly bird-like solos for the violin, all set in an orchestral soundworld of sylvan ease.
Into this expansive comfort zone arrives the second movement, an energetic fugue whose subject features falling scales, while the countersubject is made of little tightly coiled bursts of rising notes. A brief transitional Largo leads to the fourth movement, an extended, rapturous dialogue between the “bird” of the first movement, now a nightingale, and the orchestra, which alternately accompanies the solos, and richly joins in. The violin’s figuration increases in intensity with each successive solo, culminating in a brief cadenza, and a final contented tutti.
The piece could be finished here, but Handel is not; there follows one of the most playful, exuberant Allegros he ever wrote, a real Baroque hoedown. BACK
cis and Galatea is beloved among Handel afficionados and performers of Baroque music. It joins Monteverdi’s Orfeo and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas on a very short and very distinguished list of miniature operas (Handel called it “a little opera”) that deliver all the dramatic punch of Baroque opera without its usual duration, or its frequently silly plots!
The first version of the work was composed during 1716 and 1717 while Handel was the in-house composer at Cannons, the home of the Duke of Chandos, and had its first performance there, on a terrace overlooking the gardens. It was revived, fully staged and without Handel’s participation, in 1731 by the great English composer Thomas Arne, in an extremely successful production.
Apparently somewhat peeved at this, Handel reworked the piece from its original one act into a three-act serenata the following year, and mounted an unstaged production, which was not as successful. While the lack of staging probably didn’t help matters, the real problem was that Handel, exhibiting surprisingly poor judgment for such a successful entrepreneur, mixed his original English arias with some from his Italian-language version, Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (1708), creating what can only have been a strange and unsatisfying mishmash.
Handel continued to rework the piece, finishing with the two-act version in 1739. The piece has enjoyed frequent cycles of popularity, and has been revived in significant productions in every century. This popularity is due to several factors: a simple and moving story, brevity, and of course Handel himself, at the top of his game. Particularly fine are the arias “As When the Dove,” “Love in her Eyes sits Playing,” and “O Ruddier than the Cherry.”
Handel did not compose a huge number of trios, but this “little opera” contains one of the very finest, “The Flocks may Leave the Mountains,” which begins as a love duet but then develops into a highly dramatic trio with the approach of the monstrous and murderously jealous monster Polyphemus. In this stunning bit of drama, the horror bearing down on the oblivious lovers is visible only to the audience and the chorus of terrified shepherds.
Acis is a shepherd in love with the beautiful and semi-divine water nymph Galatea, who is likewise in love with him. The community of shepherds is a happy one, full of dancing and reveling, and most of Act I is concerned with the joys and anxieties of undeclared love, and the development of the budding romance, helped along, albeit reluctantly, by Acis’s friend Damon, and the chorus of shepherds.
Act II opens with the chorus “Wretched Lovers,” portending tragedy. The monster Polyphemus, besotted with Galatea himself, and murderously jealous of Acis, is drawing near. The lovers are too deep in their private amorous world to notice their danger. Polyphemus woos Galatea (with considerable charm, considering he is a cannibalistic cyclops!), but of course, Galatea rejects him, full of revulsion. Her scorn and disgust enrage him, and he picks up a boulder, crushes the life out of Acis, and quits the scene.
The inconsolable Galatea is reminded by the shepherds that her semidivine powers enable her to transform Acis’s body into a fountain, and this she does, with the final words, “Be thou immortal, tho thou art not mine.” BACK
Notes by Elizabeth Blumenstock