Although one of Handel's biggest successes during his lifetime, "Acis and Galatea" is honored more in textbooks than in performances today. Happily, the concert version presented by the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra Saturday as part of the Music and Mythology series at the Getty Museum proved of far more than just antiquarian interest.
The story of this "pastoral entertainment," as Handel labeled the piece, is from Ovid: nymph loves shepherd, Cyclops loves nymph, Cyclops drops large boulder on shepherd, nymph consoles herself with the fountain that bubbles up on the spot.
Not surprising, the composer stuck to ripe characterization, abetted by a fresh libretto largely the work of John Gay. Some of it--words and music--sounds like the sort of thing Gilbert & Sullivan would parody so effectively, but much of it sounds proto-Savoyard itself, though of distinctively Handelian invention.
The Getty version, hosted by Robert Winter in an Inner Peristyle Garden beset with enough aerial nuisances for a week at Hollywood Bowl, was based on Handel's 1732 expansion. The Malibu performance dispensed with scenery and costumes, putting the emphasis squarely on vocal portraiture, uniformly accomplished with stylish flair.
Soprano Kris Gould sang Galatea with purity and agility, stressing sovereign sweetness whether in joy or grief. Tenor Jeffrey Thomas made an excitable, extrovert Acis, of clarion voice and articulate nuance.
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Bass Mel Whitehead gave the Cyclops Polyphemus uncommon dignity, incisive rather than growling and completely free of comic villain cliches. Tenor Daniel Plaster provided noncommittal earnestness as the busybody Damon, and mezzo Agnieszka Lejman filled out the chorus quintet.
Gregory Maldonado conducted the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra gingerly, making awkward adventures out of simply starting and stopping each number. In between, however, he got blithe, buoyant work from his capable period instrument band, and generally accommodated his singers in balance and tempo.--JOHN HENKEN
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